Abu Dhabi: Pakistan 148 for 6 (Hafeez 45, Sarfraz 34, Milne 2-28) beat New Zealand146 for 6 (Munro 58, Taylor 42, Hasan 3-35) by two runs.It isn’t often that a series against Australia is termed an appetiser, but it has taken just one T20I against New Zealand to understand why this tour will be the main course of Pakistan’s home season.
They may have swarmed over Australia in the Tests and T20I series, but the little brothers in that trans-Tasman relationship look unlikely to be pushed over easily.
Pakistan still managed to sneak home, but it wasn’t until the last ball that the outcome was secure, with 18-year old Shaheen Afridi keeping his composure to defend 17 off the final over. New Zealand fell two short, with Imad Wasim’s big hits towards the end and Mohammad Hafeez‘s rescue act – 45 off 36 – after the openers fell cheaply proving to be the difference.
This meant Ross Taylor’s unbeaten 43 cameo went in vain after the chase of 149 was superbly set up by Colin Munro, who smacked a 38-ball half-century. With New Zealand needing a six to force a Super Over, Taylor could only smash a waist high full toss from Afridi to the mid-off boundary for four.
Just 45 minutes before the finish, it seemed New Zealand had got their game plans spot on and were cruising to a chase so masterfully planned that Pakistan may have well been proud of the strategies employed. Munro smashed Imad’s left-arm darts for 16 in an over after a slightly slow start, and New Zealnd were now on course.
He timed the ball sweeter than anyone from either side had managed, and his use of the reverse sweep was judicious rather than chaotic. More than once, he used it to pierce the suffocating fields Sarfraz had set him, and when the Pakistan wicketkeeper looked around and found nobody he could yell at, you realised for a change, this complicated genius was running out of ideas.
But then, exceptional as Munro’s innings was, he couldn’t keep it up right through the chase. A slightly lazy slog off Shadab Khan couldn’t quite find the middle of his bat the way most strokes earlier had, and when long-on took a simple catch, the match turned on a sixpence. New Zealand lost two more wickets and managed just 14 off the next three overs to leave them needing 53 off the last five overs.
Pakistan’s famous squeeze through the middle overs was now fully on, with Shadab, Imad, Shaheen and Hasan Ali all taking turns to build pressure. All of this without Shoaib Malik even being called upon to bowl, and Faheem Ashraf required for only two overs. You could cap the number of overs a bowler could deliver to three, and still not find a chink in the Pakistan bowling armour. This stifle decelerated New Zealand after Munro’s magic upfront.
Corey Anderson failed to connect full tosses and Taylor’s favourite across-the-line mows didn’t yield desired results in the first part of his innings. His mix-up that resulted in Colin de Grandhomme’s run out added to New Zealand’s misery, but he nearly made up for it by taking the chase deep.
Yet, the most eye-catching visuals from this game promise to be the blinders New Zealand took in the first innings. There were four superb catches taken, they might argue, but the third umpire controversially ruled one of them had touched the ground. A screamer diving to his left from Tim Southee ended Hafeez’s excellent innings, while diving efforts from Glen Phillips and Corey Anderson put an end the Asif Ali and Sarfraz Ahmed. As if that wasn’t enough, there was a direct hit from the long-on boundary to run Shoaib Malik out, and New Zealand’s fielding made Australia’s efforts look pale in contrast.
New Zealand have positives they can take for the rest of the series. Ajaz Patel and Ish Sodhi, despite their limited experience in these conditions, had figures every bit as impressive as Pakistan’s spinners, and bar one over, Southee and Adam Milne, whose extra yard of pace troubled Pakistan’s batsmen enough to give New Zealand encouragement for the coming games.
Moreover, this New Zealand side hadn’t played an international match in seven months, and once this machine is oiled properly, it only promises to get better. They might be bitterly disappointed tonight, but having fallen just two runs short against the best T20I side in the world will have convinced them they can compete with this behemoth. After all, these sides were tied after 19.5 overs each.
Those watching from the Southern Hemisphere in the small hours of the morning can finally begin to hope there is a truly competitive side from their part of the world taking on Pakistan in a series that could be one of the more memorable ones all year.