Pakistan captain Babar Azam feels more assured in his stick and prepared for the T20 World Cup final after finding form in his side’s seven-wicket win over New Zealand.
Babar is widely regarded as one of the best red-and-white-ball hitters in the world, but he averaged just 7.8 during the Super 12 group stage of the tournament, amassing just 39 points in 63 balls.
His skinny trot could have continued when his outside edge was grazed on the first delivery he was faced with by New Zealand dressmaker Trent Boult, but a diving Devon Conway took advantage of the opportunity.
The fall was something of a sliding door moment for Babar, whose 53 from 42 balls in a 105-point opening stand alongside Mohammad Rizwan was crucial as Pakistan reached a goal of 153 with five bullets to spare.
Rizwan, who contributed 57 out of 43 deliveries, had also been largely disappointed in Australia and although Babar’s downfall was more pronounced, he is confident he has now turned a corner.
And as his side head to the MCG for Sunday’s showpiece game against fierce rivals India or England, who play the second semi-final in Adelaide on Thursday, Babar is in an optimistic mood.
“I’m very confident about my stick,” he said.
“I struggled a bit in a few games, but I feel good, so I (want) to continue this momentum in the final.”
Only one victory separates Pakistan from the most unlikely of tournament triumphs. They lost their first two games against India and Zimbabwe but bounced back against the Netherlands and South Africa.
The Proteas’ shock loss to the Netherlands then left the door ajar for Pakistan, who secured a place in the top two of their Super 12 group by beating Bangladesh.
They will now be full of confidence heading to Melbourne, where Pakistan have fond memories of winning the 50th World Cup 30 years ago under manager Imran Khan.
“(Reaching the final) means a lot,” Babar said. “To be honest we didn’t start well but after the game against South Africa we had hope and after that we took the opportunity.
“Now we are playing our best cricket, and Alhamdulillah, we will play well in the final.”
As Babar and Rizwan helped Pakistan overhaul New Zealand’s 152 in four, Shaheen Shah Afridi set the tone for the evening by knocking out Finn Allen with the third point of the match.
The left arm quickly finished with two for 24, with the Black Caps grateful for Daryl Mitchell’s 53 not on 35 balls, increasing their tally after struggling to win on tricky ground.
“Everyone knows he is the best bowler in Pakistan and the world,” Babar added of Afridi.
New Zealand, beaten runners-up last year, followed a below-par performance with the bat with a bit of uncharacteristic sloppiness on the pitch, losing three catches in total while well-beaten.
Kiwis captain Kane Williamson said: “The frustrating thing is that we weren’t quite in top form.
“We fought hard and showed good characteristics which are important for our team and the attitude you want to see, but it wasn’t. That’s the frustrating part for me.