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Babar and I were set, we should’ve finished the game: Imam-Ul-Haq

Pakistan's Imam-ul-Haq celebrates after scoring a half-century (50 runs) during the first one-day international (ODI) cricket match between South Africa and Pakistan at SuperSport Park in Centurion on April 2, 2021. (Photo by PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP) (Photo by PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP via Getty Images)

Pakistan opener Imam-Ul-Haq and his captain Babar Azam were cruising in their second-wicket stand, dwarfing South Africa’s 273 for 6 in the opening ODI of the series. The partnership was worth 177 runs when Anrich Nortje found a way to break through, much against the run of play. In fact, he did it twice in the space of two overs to dismiss both the set batsmen – Imam for 70, Azam for 103 – to push Pakistan into a nervy territory and give South Africa an outside chance of a late heist.

Pakistan went from 186 for 1 to 203 for 5, as a familiar tale of making life difficult for themselves in what should’ve otherwise been a straightforward chase unfolded. Ramiz Raja, on commentary, saw the funny side to the happenings and reckoned this is why his team was so much in demand – they were entertainers through and through.

Having eventually won the game – off the final ball – Imam too saw the funny side. “You know there’s this pandemic bringing everyone down these days and so we thought we’d entertain people a little,” he quipped tongue-in-cheek.

But the opener admitted his and Azam’s inability to keep their stand going and wrap up the chase was worrisome for a side hoping to rise up and take a shot at winning a big tournament in the next couple of years.

“On a serious note, if you want to win big tournaments and become a top three team… it’s not as if we don’t talk about this in our meetings, it gets discussed, that if your top three get set in white-ball, then in other teams they don’t just make 100, they get 150.

“That is what we’re trying to do, like Babar [Azam] and I were set today, we should finish the game. We were playing an ODI after a long time. We want to learn from our mistakes and turn these 70s and 80s into match winning knocks and turn a win like this into a seven- or six-wicket win.”

Since scoring a century against Bangladesh at Lord’s in the 2019 World Cup, Imam has featured in only four ODIs until Friday’s fixture, and was eager to kick on from the start he got and make it count with a triple-figure score.

“To be honest, I’m very disappointed [in not finishing the game],” Imam said. “I’ve been waiting one and a half years since my last hundred. I haven’t had that many opportunities in the last year. You don’t always get what you want, but I’ve got two more games to make up for it,” he said.

Azam meanwhile, marched on with his 13th century in the 50-over format, and was pleased to have got it, even though his exit put pressure on Pakistan in the latter stages of the chase. The Pakistan skipper praised the sixth-wicket partnership between Mohammad Rizwan and Shadab Khan worth 53 runs that kept the visitors in the chase.

“I enjoyed that hundred quite a bit,” Azam said. “With Imam the plan was just to stretch that partnership as far as possible into the target. We just didn’t want to lose focus at any stage. We wanted to finish it but unfortunately, I got out, then Imam did and we had a bit of a collapse which put pressure on us. But Rizi and Shadab really had an outstanding partnership that brought us back into the game.

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