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Wahab's love affair with World Cups

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Wahab_Riaz_Pakistan_CricketWahab Riaz was not an automatic selection in the Pakistan cricket team for the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England. He wasn’t even included in the 17-man provisional squad that was announced earlier. The same team played the five-match ODI series in England ahead of the tournament and lost 4-0. Wahab then got a surprise call-up in the Pakistan ODI squad for the first time in two years. His last ODI match came against India in Pakistan’s Champions Trophy campaign in 2017.

According to the Head Coach Mickey Arthur, Wahab wasn’t good enough for the World Cup as he didn’t win a match for Pakistan in last two years in the 50-over format. It looked like the doors were closed for his return to the ODI or T20 teams. Following his selection, Chief Selector Inzamam-ul-Haq said that Wahab's ability to extract reverse swing got him selected. And Inzamam seemed to have taken a right decision, as was evident from Pakistan’s second match of the tournament, against England.

Although he was the most expensive bowler during the first game against the West Indies, he was magical in the second. England started as the favourites in this World Cup. The Pakistan batsmen collectively posted a mammoth total of 348 against the hosts and England fell short of 14 runs from the target. With two centuries from the England side, they almost won the match. Thanks to a brilliant spell from Wahab at the end that Pakistan could defeat England.

England required 29 runs from last 14 balls when Wahab rose to the occasion. He picked up Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes on the trot in the 48th over, which almost ended the job for England. Earlier he took out Jonny Bairstow in his first spell and England were struggling at 60/2.

This was not the first time that Wahab Riaz delivered with such brilliance in a World Cup. In fact, he has had a love-affair with World Cups since his first one.

In the 2011 Cricket World Cup in India and Sri Lanka, Wahab took a total of nine wickets in four matches. The most intense game against India saw him delivering an epic spell in Mohali, Punjab, where his reverse swing earned him a five-wicket haul against a terrific batting side. The day brought out the best in him and he picked up the wickets of Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, and Zaheer Khan. India were bowled out for 260/9 and, in response, Pakistan were all out for just 231 runs. Despite Pakistan losing another battle against India in a World Cup, Riaz’ spell turned out to be one of the rare glorious moments for them.

In the 2015 tournament in Australia and New Zealand, Wahab delivered a few deadly spells.

Against Zimbabwe, Pakistan could score only 235 runs. Riaz, along with Mohammad Irfan, went through the entire line up to send Zimbabwe home for 215 runs. He had a four-wicket haul and ended with figures of 9.4-1-45-4. He had two 3-fers in the next clashes against South Africa and Ireland. The low scoring affair against South Africa saw Riaz utilizing the momentum provided by Rahat Ali to strike an initial blow. Ali took the wicket of Faf du Plessis and broke his partnership with Hashim Amla. Riaz immediately picked up the wickets of Hashim Amla and Rilee Rossouw, and South Africa could never get back into the game. He finally finished with 7.3-2-45-3.

But his best in the 2015 World Cup was yet to come. Pakistan were facing Australia in the third Quarter Final. Although Australia chased down the target of 214 with six wickets and 97 balls in hand, Riaz bowled an action-packed spell and took two wickets. His battle with Shane Watson is fondly remembered by cricket fans around the world and became one of the most memorable periods of that World Cup.

Taunted by the Australians, Riaz delivered a spell full of quick bouncers and short balls and made Watson very uncomfortable, with his deliveries of around 150 km/hour. A catch was dropped by Rahat Ali and Riaz’s all the good work went in vain that day.

With a few days to go to his 34th birthday, Wahab Riaz knows this is probably the last chance given to him to represent Pakistan on the biggest stage of world cricket. He has already shown glimpses of what he is still able to do. Hopefully, he will perform his best and create some more magic, especially keeping the uncertainty of his side in mind.



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