'We will try to do it' – Babar still believes Pakistan can set up semi-final against India

Alastair Cook announces retirement from professional cricket

How do you plan a game where you need to win by 287 runs? That is Pakistan’s task against England in Kolkata on Saturday to qualify for the World Cup semi-finals: not just 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 match that will require an unlikely margin of victory to overtake New Zealand in net run rate (NRR). In 2019, they needed to beat Bangladesh by around 316 runs at Lord’s to progress; This time, the required margin of 287 is only a fraction smaller.

“It is in our mind and we will try to do it,” Babar Azam, their captain, insisted at Eden Gardens on Friday, highlighting that Pakistan still believes it can reach a semi-final against India. “We will try to execute our plans on how we will go tomorrow and how we will achieve the goal.

“We can’t just go in and start shooting 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 objective. There are a lot of things in this – like partnerships, [and] which players will stay on the field for how long.”

Pakistan defied expectations in their most recent match, conceding 401 against New Zealand in Bengaluru before Fakhar Zaman scored 126 (not out off 81 balls) to take them to an improbable victory through the DLS method. And Babar believes Fakhar will also have the key on Saturday.

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

Pakistan will effectively be eliminated before a ball is bowled tomorrow as raising their NRR will be next to impossible if England ask them to bowl first. Even if they bowled out England for 100, they would have to score 17 consecutive sixes, i.e. complete the chase in 2.5 overs, to be able to surpass New Zealand’s NRR.

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

There was little else Babar could do other than talk about his team’s chances of qualification, but the prospect of winning by that margin seems fanciful, even against a very confident England team. In reality, Pakistan is very likely to miss the semi-final for the third consecutive World Cup.

Babar’s position as captain has been the subject of significant media scrutiny in his country over the past six weeks, and confirmation of Pakistan’s elimination from the group stage will only increase speculation over his future in the role. Despite this, he insisted that the noise has not distracted him or his team.

“It’s just because I haven’t played like I should in the World Cup; that’s why people say I’m under pressure,” Babar said. “I’m not under any pressure. I’ve been doing this for the last two and a half years, [to] three years. I was the one who acted and I was the captain.

“Everyone says something different: it should be like this or like that. If someone has to give me advice, everyone has my number… I don’t think I’ve had any pressure or felt any different about this. I try to do my best. of me on 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 he has not reached the heights expected of him. “I wanted to do well here. He had high expectations but I couldn’t perform as per expectations,” Babar said. “I accept that.”

Regarding his future in office, Babar said it was out of his control: “On the captaincy, like I said, once we get back to Pakistan – or after this match – we will see what happens. But right now, I’m not concentrating on this: my attention is on the next game.

A 287-run victory might be needed to calm the talks.

Matt Roller is assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98