ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 – Babar Azam believes Pakistan can set up semi-final


How do you plan for a game which you need to win by 287 runs? That is Pakistan’s task against England in Kolkata on Saturday, in order to qualify for the semi-finals of the World Cup: not just to win, but also win by the biggest margin in the history of their men’s ODI team.

It is the second consecutive World Cup in which Pakistan will head into their final group game requiring an implausible winning margin to overtake New Zealand on net run rate (NRR). In 2019, they needed to beat Bangladesh by around 316 runs at Lord’s to sneak through; this time, the required margin of 287 is only a fraction smaller.

“It’s in our mind, and we will try to do it,” Babar Azam, their captain, insisted on Friday at Eden Gardens, emphasising that Pakistan still believe they can set up a semi-final against India. “We will try to execute our plans of how we will go tomorrow, and how we will achieve the target.

“We can’t just go in and start firing blindly. We want that, but with proper planning – how we want to play the first ten overs, then the next 20; how we have to achieve that target. There are lots of things in this – like partnerships, [and] which players will stay on the pitch for how long.”

Pakistan defied expectations in their most recent game, conceding 401 against New Zealand in Bengaluru before Fakhar Zaman hit 126 not out off 81 balls to lead them to an improbable victory via the DLS method. And Babar believes that Fakhar will hold the key on Saturday too.

“I would say if Fakhar is [batting] in the match for 20 or 30 overs, we can achieve that,” he said. “Then follow up with [Mohammad] Rizwan, [and] Iftikhar [Ahmed]. We can do this, and we have planned for this.”

Pakistan will effectively be eliminated before a ball is bowled tomorrow, since boosting their NRR will be near impossible if they are asked to bowl first by England. Even if they bowled England out for 100, they would then have to hit 17 consecutive sixes – that is, complete the chase in 2.5 overs – in order to move above New Zealand’s NRR.

“There is one match left. You never know: it’s cricket,” Babar said. “We will try to finish on a good note, and then see. I think the South Africa match [which Pakistan lost by one wicket] cost us. We should have won that match; but unfortunately, we didn’t, because of which we are at this stage.”

There was little else Babar could do other than talking up his side’s chances of qualification, but the prospect of winning by such a margin seems fanciful – even against an England side shot of confidence. In reality, Pakistan are highly likely to miss out on the semi-final for a third consecutive World Cup.

Babar’s position as captain has come under significant media scrutiny back home over the last six weeks, and confirmation of Pakistan’s group-stage exit will only heighten the speculation surrounding his future in the role. Despite that, he insisted that the noise has not distracted him or his team.

“It’s just because I have not performed the way I should have in the World Cup; that’s why people are saying that I am under pressure,” Babar said. “I am under no pressure. I have been doing this for the last two-and-a-half, [to] three years. I was the one who was performing, and I was the one who was the captain.

“Everyone is saying something different: he should be like this, or like that. If someone has to give me advice, everyone has my number… I don’t think I was under any pressure or felt any different because of this. I try to give my best in the field during fielding; [and] during batting, I think about how I should make runs and make the team win.”

He has had a respectable tournament with the bat, scoring 282 runs at 40.28 with four half-centuries, but has not hit the heights expected of him. “I wanted to give a good performance here. I had high expectations but I couldn’t perform as per expectations,” Babar said. “I accept that.”

As for his future in the role, Babar said that it was out of his control: “About the captaincy, as I said, once we go back to Pakistan – or after this match – we will see what happens. But right now, I am not focusing on this: my focus is on the next match.”

It might take a 287-run win to quieten the talk.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98



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