Dubai: Pakistan 154 for 4 (Babar 40, Hafeez 34*, Milne 2-25) beat New Zealand153 for 7 (Anderson 44*, Munro 44, Afridi 3-20) by six wickets.
A masterful chase from Pakistan helped them secure their 11th straight series win – and 11th consecutive win in a T20I chase. They might have taken it to the last over – to the final two deliveries – but make no mistake, Pakistan were in charge of it almost every step of the way. Pakistan fans have too many bitter experiences over the years, and that mental scarring meant collective sighs of relief were not heaved until Mohammad Hafeez played one of the shots of the day to lift Adam Milne over extra cover for four to seal victory. But in truth, all throughout the innings, Pakistan had paced it well enough to remain one step ahead of New Zealand, who once again showed enough to suggest this will be a fiercely competitive tour. As has been the case with every other team in the world, though, they weren’t quite good enough for this Pakistan juggernaut.
New Zealand had taken the attack to Pakistan from ball one – literally. Colin Munro, who played some marvellous shots during his 28-ball 44, smashed Imad Wasim for six off the game’s first ball, and a late flurry from Corey Anderson took them to 153. That is around the outer limit of what Pakistan have been able to muster over the past few T20Is, and they needed contributions from every one of their batsmen. They were up to the task, and though a tight penultimate over gave New Zealand hope, Sarfraz Ahmed’s men had done too much too well to be denied.
After opting to bat, New Zealand tried to follow the template Pakistan have patented in these conditions. Colin Munro played the Fakhar Zaman role to perfection, getting New Zealand off to a flying start and hitting Imad out of the attack. They were up to 47 for 0 in the first five overs, before the youngest player on the pitch decided enough was enough.
Shaheen Shah Afridi might have been slightly fortuitous to have as many to defend as he did in the final over a couple of days ago, but there could be no complaints today. He sucked out New Zealand’s momentum with a fabulous first over, conceding just three runs and capping it with the wicket of Glen Phillips, who was never really able to get away. That over was the start of what we might as well officially start calling The Squeeze, as Pakistan drained the life out of Kane Williamson’s men in the middle overs, who managed just 40 runs off the next eight overs. Faheem Ashraf, Shadab Khan, Imad and Shaheen all played starring roles in that phase, and New Zealand were reduced to biding their time and trying to keep as many wickets in hand for a big enough finish.
They won that phase of play, thanks in part to Hasan Ali slightly off the pace at the death, but Corey Anderson still needed to play a blinder to ensure his side surged past 150. Hasan came in for severe punishment, his three overs going for 43 runs, while Shaheen at the other end bowled an exceptional 18th over, allowing just one run to ensure Pakistan didn’t have an even bigger chase on their hands.
Pakistan followed the pattern of play New Zealand had set in the Powerplay. Perhaps a little too closely, in fact, by the end of six overs, they were 50 for 1, exactly the same score the visitors had managed in that period. Fakhar Zaman, returning from an injury, and Babar Azam, got Pakistan off to a brisk start, scoring 11 runs from each of the first three overs. Fakhar might have gone on to play a far more match-defining innings had Kane Williamson not taken a stunner that, even by his side’s high standards, was a jaw-dropping grab. Fakhar had slapped the ball to mid-off, far enough to the left of the fielder for the opener to feel safe about the shot. But Williamson dived full length to his left, sticking one hand out. The ball stuck, and both the batsmen batsman stared in disbelief at the sensational piece of catching they had just seen.
Pakistan were a bit more fluent in the middle overs, with Babar and Asif Ali rotating the strike and finding boundaries regularly enough not to see the asking rate balloon out of control. But once Babar gave his wicket away as he lost his timing, New Zealand came back into the game. Hafeez took time to settle in, while Asif’s ability to rotate the strike suddenly disappeared; it was either six or nothing. With four overs to go, he missed a straight, waist high full toss from part-timer Colin Munro. It was arguably the worst ball bowled of the match, but Asif swung wildly through thin air as the ball cannoned into his back pad bang in front of middle.
The asking rate had now hit 10, and this is where Hafeez took centrestage. Two sixes in an over off Ish Sodhi – who had bowled rather well up to then, eased the pressure as Pakistan plundered 17 off the 17th over. Malik at the other end was a picture of calm, and while he made just 10 runs, six of them came via a glorious hit in the 18th over that kept Pakistan on top of the asking rate, ensuring they needed chase just 14 off the final two.
That became seven off a final over to be bowled by Adam Milne. Malik tried to make quick work of it when he lofted a leg-side full toss, only to see it sail into midwicket’s lap. But Pakistan still had one experienced head out in the middle, and Hafeez, who finished unbeaten on 34 off 21, was playing too well to come away leaving the job undone. Another series won, another challenger brushed aside. 2018 might not see a World T20 competition take place, but there is little doubt who commands top billing in this format these days.