'We have the belief that we will win our next two games and then look ahead'
Pakistan right-hander Babar Azam declared his unbeaten 101 runs against New Zealand in the World Cup match as the "best innings" of his cricketing journey.
Babar played a match-winning knock of 101 not out off 127 balls at Edgbaston on Wednesday to keep Pakistan's hopes alive of reaching the semi-finals in the ongoing mega event.
"This is my best innings. The wicket was very difficult and turned a lot in the second half. The plan was to go through to the end and give my 100 per cent," Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) quoted Babar, as saying after the match.
While chasing 238, Babar along with Haris Sohail stitched a 126-run fourth wicket partnership to place Pakistan in a comfortable position. The duo tackled the likes of pacers Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson, and spinner Mitchell Santner to take Pakistan over the line in 49.1 overs.
"When we started, the plan was to see out Ferguson but when Santner came on, the plan became not to give wickets to him and cover up later when the fast bowlers come on. We are confident, we are taking it match by match, and hopefully, we will qualify. We are very focussed on this," Babar said.
"Belief has been the key," said Babar, who reached his 10th one-day international hundred off 124 balls with 11 fours.
"We have the belief that we will win our next two games and then look ahead." Babar, 24, said even when the team were struggling earlier in the tournament, they were confident they could turn their fortunes around.
"We were not winning matches but we talked to each other and had the belief that we could do it and now our focus is on the next game," he said.
With the six-wicket win, Pakistan ended New Zealand's unbeaten streak in the tournament. When the Asian team required just two runs from 10 balls, Haris fell short of his ground as Martin Guptill brilliantly ran him out for 68, bringing Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed to the crease. On the first ball of the final over, Sarfaraz hit the winning boundary to seal the massive victory for Pakistan in a match where they had no option but to win.
"Credit to Babar and Haris, the way they played on this pitch, it's some of the finest batting I've ever seen. It was a great team effort, we bowled well but we knew 240 was not an easy target on this pitch," Sarfaraz said.
"Whenever we are in a corner we play our best, it was a great team effort. All the bowlers bowled well and there was some of the finest batting I have ever seen. Babar played one of the best innings I have ever seen. They handled the pressure so well," he added.
Pakistan's campaign in this World Cup is turning out to be similar to that of the 1992 edition, the year in which the team lifted the Cup under the leadership of former ace cricketer and current Prime Minister, Imran Khan. However, Sarfaraz said the team is not thinking about 1992 rather Pakistan's focus is on the next match against Afghanistan, scheduled for June 29 at Leeds.
"We're not thinking about 1992, our focus is the next match. We are very confident and hopefully, we'll do well. The crowd is always behind the Pakistan team and we didn't do well for them in some of our previous matches," Sarfaraz said.
The spooky parallels though have already spawned numerous memes on social media, with some of their long-suffering fans beginning to believe the stuttering run might culminate with them winning their second World Cup title next month.
Some have even gone further and predicted that if that happens, captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, following in Khan's footsteps, would go on to become the country's prime minister in 2045.
The jubilation among fans is in contrast to their mood after they lost to arch-rivals India in the June 16 contest in Manchester.
Irate fans questioned the players' professionalism and even mocked Sarfaraz in London.
Back-to-back victories since then have lifted the gloom and several former players took to Twitter to congratulate the team.
"Never corner Pakistan. We become tigers when you do that. Congratulations & well done boys," former fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar wrote.
"Pakistan keep the dream alive," tweeted former captain Wasim Akram.