Every time Harris Sohail nailed a four or a six (12 boundaries in all), it seemed like a slap to the team management. Benched for a few games as Pakistan rewound to 90’s misplaced nostalgia with Shoaib Malik, Sohail returning with a vengeance. Now we know why Pakistan had been stale, plodding along ’90s style, thus far. Because they had a team like that. Attitude like that.
Events that haven’t transpired so far happened. Mohammad Amir’s inswinger, Wahab Riaz’s revere-curlers, self-awareness from Sarfraz Ahmed to demote himself, Shaheen Afridi bowled fuller and the bowlers were rotated smartly. That they won despite dropping at least 5 catchable chances says a lot about South Africa too – but also, Pakistan bowling was that good. Good things continued, a consistency not always seen with the team: Babar Azam was as classy as ever, Fakhar Zaman and Imam ul Haq gave another solid start.
But make no doubt, amidst all these good things, it was Sohail’s game-turning blitz that did the trick. He is a rather interesting character. Such is the shroud of mystery about him that he had to, early this year, refute news reports that he had complained about black magic against him. Not once, but twice. First in 2015, news about a spooky hotel room in Christchurch emerged in the last World Cup and then this year, another supernatural turn came when he returned from a South Africa tour. “Such reports have also disturbed my family a lot. I have faced a knee injury problem again and that is why I had to miss the Test series in South Africa,” Sohail said.
And guess what happens. He returns for a World Cup against who else but South Africa, and spooked them with his skills.
Sohail’s wasn’t a knock of fury. He didn’t come and fire away to prove his worth to anyone. There was violence, but understated. It was the classy touches that stood out. Hand waves outside off that had the ball scurrying away, fist punches that had the ball plummeting through gaps. The best tribute possible is that he out-classed Babar Azam – and not many can do it in world cricket.
Sohail is one of the better timers out there – soft punches and push-drives have the ball fleeing to the boundary at some pace. But his game-awareness stood out more on this day. And perhaps his point to prove. Consider his third boundary off the 10th ball he faced.
He had just creamed Kagiso Rabada’s full delivery to the straight boundary and anticipated that the next one could well be short. He backed away to the leg side, a slight shuffle, not one of those all-or-nothing moves, and absolutely smacked the short ball over point.
By the end, Riaz had the South Africans explain to one another in the middle how the previous ball reversed late. They would meet mid-pitch and one would tell the other the extent of deviation. Riaz was let down by his team-mates again; they dropped two catches off him against Australia and they put down two more in this game. It was apparent from the start that Pakistan were in mood. Zaman and Imam were refreshingly positive from the start until Imran Tahir dragged them down with his skill and spirit. Pity that Tahir’s team-mates didn’t quite stir themselves.