By our correspondent
KARACHI: It was a dead rubber but skipper Babar Azam and his rampaging Pakistan team made sure that the fourth One-day International against New Zealand here at the National Stadium on Friday will go down in the annals of history as a memorable game.
Babar hit 107 — his 18th ODI ton — to become the fastest batter in history to complete 5000 runs in the 50-over format as Pakistan thrashed New Zealand by 102 runs to take a 4-0 lead in the five-match series. Perhaps far more important than Babar’s personal landmark was the fact that the victory helped Pakistan become the number one team in the world for the first time since the ODI rankings were introduced in 2005.
Pakistan were placed at No.5 in the ODI rankings at the start of the series but four straight forward wins against New Zealand — who were placed at No.2 in the rankings — helped the hosts catapult themselves to the top of the list. The winning spree couldn’t have come at a better time for Pakistan who are looking to regain the 50-Over World Cup later this year. It was Babar who was the chief architect of Pakistan’s comprehensive win as his stylish century enabled the hosts to accumulate 334-6 after New Zealand won the toss and asked them to bat first.
On a slow wicket that offered enough turn to the spinners, New Zealand were unable to rise to the challenge as leg-spinner Usama Mir, one of the five changes made by Pakistan to their playing line-up, squeezed the life of their innings with 4-43 that included the prized scalps of Daryl Mitchell and Mark Chapman.
New Zealand were never in the hunt once pacers Haris Rauf and Wasim Jr got rid of openers Will Young (16) and Tom Blundell (23) as the tourists were bowled out for just 232 in 43.4 overs. There was some resistance from the trio of Tom Latham, Chapman and Mitchell but Pakistan’s potent bowling line-up made sure that the Blackcaps won’t come anywhere near their imposing total. Latham top-scored with a 76-ball 60 while Chapman hit an entertaining 33-ball 46 that included three sixes and four fours. But the highlight of the game was Babar’s scintillating knock. The world’s number one ODI batter was in sublime form as he toyed with the New Zealand attack with an enviable ease.
The crowd at the National Stadium wasn’t a big one but those present were lucky enough to witness a special knock from Babar as he broke South Africa’s Hashim Amla´s record during his superbly-crafted knock. Babar needed 19 runs in his 97th innings in 99 One-day Internationals to reach the fastest 5000 runs milestone, something he managed without much fuss. Amla achieved the feat in 101 innings from 104 matches. Babar added 50 runs with Shan Masood (44), who came in for Imam-ul-Haq, for the second wicket. He then played the lead role in a 127-run stand for the fourth wicket with Agha Salman (58) before adding another 41 runs for the sixth wicket with Iftikhar Ahmed who chipped in with 28. Tail-ender Shaheen Shah Afridi then ended Pakistan’s innings in an explosive manner hitting three sixes and a four in his 7-ball 23. Both teams will meet in the fifth and final game of the series in Karachi on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has congratulated the Pakistan cricket team, PCB, Babar Azam and the nation on becoming the top-ranked ODI cricket team. “Today is a great day as Pakistan has become the top-ranked ODI cricket team. The manner in which the Green Shirts have defeated New Zealand to book a top slot in the ICC rankings is simply outstanding. Making the nation proud is skipper Babar Azam who earned the feat of completing fastest 5000 runs in ODIs and leading Pakistan cricket to this glory,” he wrote on Twitter.
By our correspondent