Pakistan 241 for 4 (Babar 101*, Sohail 68) beat New Zealand 237 for 6 (Neesham 97*, de Grandhomme 64, Shaheen Afridi 3-28) by six wickets
Babar Azam’s tenth ODI century, arguably his best and most important one till date, took Pakistan to a vital six-wicket victory against New Zealand and keep their chances of making the semi-finals alive at Birmingham on Wednesday.
The results so far for Pakistan have been exactly the same as they were in the 1992 World Cup - which they eventually won - and this was no exception.
To make the similarities even more astonishing, back then Pakistan also defeated a New Zealand team which was undefeated in the tournament.
After winning the toss, Kiwi captain Kane Williamson chose to bat, but soon came face-to-face with an amazing spell of fast bowling from Shaheen Afridi as he took three big top order wickets - Colin Munro (12), Ross Taylor (3) and Tom Latham (1) - to have New Zealand at 46/4.
The first wicket was however taken by Pakistan’s best bowler in the tournament so far, Mohammad Amir, who dismissed Martin Guptill for five as he played a loose shot to inside edge the ball onto his stumps.
The Kiwis then found some respite as Afridi was taken out of the attack but leg-spinner Shadab Khan produced a fantastic delivery that spun a bit more than usual off the surface to dismiss their best batsman, Williamson for 41.
With the score at 83/5 things were looking dire for the Kiwis but James Neesham played the innings of his life and found adequate support in the in-form Colin de Grandhomme as they put on a 132-run stand to cross the 200-run mark and bring the game on level terms.
De Grandhomme tried to increase the run-rate further, as the Pakistan bowlers bowled brilliantly at the death overs, but was run out after scoring 64 off 71 balls in an innings that had six boundaries and one six.
Neesham stayed not out in the other end on 97 and New Zealand ended on 237/6, a total which New Zealand would have been happy with after their horror start, and Pakistan would not have been unhappy with, especially given the way they bowled in the death overs.
Pakistan came out playing their shots but Fakhar Zaman lost his wicket for just nine runs playing one shot too many.
Imam-Ul-Haq and Babar Azam then took their time to score the runs but Williamson then brought in Lockie Ferguson - a bowler who had troubled Imam in the last series these two teams played each other - and he did the trick with a bouncer, couple by some excellent catching by Guptill to remove Imam for 19.
Mohammad Hafeez and Babar then formed another steady partnership of 66 runs to help Pakistan cross the 100-run mark.
With Mitchell Santner getting extravagant turn from the pitch, Williamson brought himself onto the attack and that caused the downfall of Hafeez - a player that has made a habit of getting out to part-time bowlers this tournament, previously being dismissed by Aiden Markram and Aaron Finch.
With Hafeez out for 32 and the score at 110/3 after 24.5 overs, the game could have gone either way but in came the in-form Haris Sohail, who teamed up with Babar and took the game away from the Kiwis with some excellent counter-attacking shots in a 126-run partnership.
Haris brought up his second half century in a row as Babar reached his century a few overs later, even though he was stuck on 99 for quite a while.
It took a special effort to break the partnership and Guptill produced one as he ran in from point and flung himself at the stumps to have Sohail short of the crease and he was gone after scoring 68 from 76 balls.
Sarfaraz was in next and he hit the winning runs off the first ball of the last over - a rank full-toss by Ferguson dispatched through the covers for a boundary.
Pakistan are now at 6th spot with seven points, behind Bangladesh who are on the same number of points from the same number of games but have a better net run-rate.
New Zealand remain in second position with 11 points from seven games but with tough matches against England and Australia remaining, their qualification has not been guaranteed.
India are in third spot with nine points from just five games and face Windies next, who are placed 8th with three points and still have a very slim chance of qualification to the semis if they win their three remaining games.
Babar Azam’s century also helped him cross 3000 ODI runs and he’s done it in very quick time - 68 innings - the second fastest to reach the landmark behind Hashim Amla, who has done it in just 57 innings.
The 132-run partnership between Neesham and de Grandhomme was the biggest sixth-wicket partnership for New Zealand in World Cups.
Neesham’s 97 not-out was his highest score in ODI’s and he became very close to becoming only the fourth cricketer to score a century and also take a five-for in World Cups after Kapil Dev, Yuvraj Singh, and Shakib Al Hasan.