It’s a different Pakistan team that has come to the UAE for the T20 World Cup. They have brought consistency, stability and method to their usual edge-of-the-seat game.
Their bowlers – pacers and spinners – are firing on all cylinders. Their fielders are running like gazelles, saving runs and effecting crucial run-outs, some even with direct hits.
If Shaheen Afridi had the Indian team on the mat with exemplary swing bowling in their opening match, it was Haris Rauf (4/22) who breathed fire against New Zealand on Tuesday at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. Rauf consistently touched 150kph in his opening spell, and in the death overs cleverly mixed his slower deliveries to send four Kiwi batters to the pavilion. With the Pakistan bowlers putting up a show, New Zealand could manage only 134/8.
In reply, the Pakistan batters made heavy duty of the modest target and at one point were struggling at 87/5 with the required run-rate going beyond nine. But the pair of Shoaib Malik (26 not out off 20b; 2×4, 1×6) and Asif Ali (27 not out off 12b; 1×4, 3×6) joined forces for the sixth wicket and put together a stellar unbroken 48-run stand off just 23 balls to take Pakistan home, with 8 balls to spare and 5 wickets still in the shed.
The in-form Mohammed Rizwan (33 off 34b; 5×4) started the chase on a bright note, but after the Powerplay the Pakistan innings fell away and they lost wickets in a bunch before Malik and Ali made short work of the New Zealand bowlers.
For once, India, who lost heavily to Pakistan, would not mind Babar Azam and Co. winning, since a New Zealand win would have put Virat Kohli’s men under more pressure heading into Sunday’s game.
The Pakistan-NZ game, termed as an opportunity for “revenge” by the Pakistani cricket community since the day New Zealand went back without playing last month, was expected to see tempers flying from the Green Brigade. But nothing of that sort took place. Babar Azam had requested his teammates to not get “over-excited” and be “clinical” with their performance and they toed the skipper’s line.
Shaheen started like he did against India, swinging the ball into the right-handed batters. Although wickets eluded him, his stingy first spell read 2-1-8-0. He set the tone and Haris picked up the baton. The speedster’s first ball was a searing 150kph yorker to Martin Guptill.
The next one – a 149kph thunderbolt – crashed into the stumps with Guptill backing away but unable to put bat to ball. Kane Williamson strode to the crease and started accumulating runs. On the other end, Daryl Mitchell (27 off 20b; 1×4, 2×6) managed to post a couple outside the boundary ropes and looked good for a few more. But, in his pursuit to get another maximum, he holed out to the long-on fielder off Imad Wasim’s bowling.
Jimmy Neesham – sent up the order – tried to get going from the word go itself, but he couldn’t clear the midwicket boundary off Mohammad Hafeez’ bowling and was caught by Fakhar Zaman.
Williamson (25 off 26b; 2×4, 1×6) got together with Devon Conway (27 off 24b; 3×4) and put the Kiwi innings back on track, adding a quick 34 runs. It looked as if the New Zealand captain was on his way to a big score. But then disaster struck, and Williamson was run-out with the bowler Hasan Ali effecting a direct hit as Williamson took a few steps out of his crease in search of a single.
Conway carried on till the slog overs, but couldn’t get the better of Haris Rauf. In the 18th over, Rauf first dismissed Conway with an off-cutter slower ball, as Babar Azam made no mistake with the resulting catch at cow corner. Then Glenn Phillips’ innings was cut short with another slower ball variation.