Pakistan ought to be far more inspired than South Africa when they meet on Sunday at Lord’s in the Cricket World Cup.
Pakistan still have a chance to climb the standings to the semifinal positions, even though it’s a long shot. After South Africa, the Pakistanis play New Zealand, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Of all four opponents, only Afghanistan is below them.
“Pakistan plays better under pressure,” fast bowler Wahab Riaz says.
To soothe critical fans at home after the demoralizing defeat to India last Sunday, he adds, “We will qualify for the semifinals.”
Despite the promise, Riaz says the team can’t afford to think beyond this Sunday. The next game against New Zealand won’t mean as much if they don’t beat South Africa.
He says Pakistan has talked openly about its problems: Poor fielding, lack of penetration by the bowlers with the new ball, the lack of big scores by the batsmen.
“Good teams are those that discuss and talk about their mistakes openly to each other and we’ve done that. We will make up for our mistakes,” he promises again.
“We have to lift ourselves. We are each other’s strength. We are all good friends and know that only 15 of us can lift the team which not even our family members can do.”
He says, apart from the win against England, they have let themselves down in not playing up to standard in the last two matches, defeats to India and Australia.
“Execution of skills is everything,” he adds. “They (South Africa) have failed in that aspect like us. In this match, it depends on who handles pressure better and plays better.”
Unlike Pakistan, South Africa is all but out. It was telling that after losing to New Zealand on Wednesday and told by a journalist his side was still in semifinals contention, captain Faf du Plessis said, “Are we?”
South Africa would have to win its three remaining games against Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and defending champion Australia and hope a lot of other teams don’t win a bunch of games, including top-four sides New Zealand, England and India.
Knowing this, and in the emotional aftermath of throwing everything at New Zealand and coming up excruciatingly short, it would be understandable if South Africa is feeling flat.
South Africa has beaten only Afghanistan among five matches and a washout. Injuries have handicapped the bowling attack but it’s been the batsmen who haven’t performed. Only once has South Africa passed 300, nobody has a century, and there’s been only six half-centuries.
Even du Plessis, who is averaging 32 in six innings, blames himself.
“I need to be the leading run-scorer in our batting unit with Quinny (de Kock) probably. That’s been happening the last two seasons,” du Plessis said.
He isn’t though. De Kock leads with 191 at this World Cup, Rassie van der Dussen has 180, then du Plessis with 128. Meanwhile, Australia, England, India, New Zealand and Bangladesh all have players with more than 200 runs.
“I am feeling good, just a case of making those starts, turning them into scores. I know my big score is around the corner. I’m feeling good, hitting the ball nicely. But, yeah, I’m part of the guys not putting enough runs on the board,” du Plessis said.
“If you look at our batting unit, we’ve got some future talent and some promising players, but if you put our top six and you put the other top sixes around the world, purely on a numbers point of view, we won’t be in the top three. We’re not as experienced perhaps as other teams when it comes to that. We’re just not producing scores or innings that can win you games.”