Half-centuries from Haris Sohail and an unexpectedly restrained Shahid Afridi revived a floundering chase as Pakistan won a thrilling first ODI by three wickets. New Zealand, having hauled themselves out of a mire of their own thanks to a century from Ross Taylor, were running away with the game at the three-quarter mark, but Haris and Afridi snatched it away with breathtaking coolness. Haris finished on an unbeaten 85, to go with 10 tight overs of left-arm spin earlier in the day.
When Afridi walked in to bat, Pakistan were six down, and needed 123 off 122 balls. The left-handed Haris was batting on 34, and had played a couple of lovely lofted drives against the spinners in a fighting innings that seemed destined to go down as a small positive in a big defeat. That’s all it would have been if Afridi had made a typically harebrained 15 or 20 at the other end.
But Afridi knuckled down, and brought out his first slog only 21 balls into his innings. By then, he had picked up boundaries with a screaming drive over extra cover and a crafty dab behind the wicket, but had otherwise simply knocked the ball around for ones and twos. That first slog produced a thick edge to the third man boundary. The next slog came when he was on 30. He swung and missed and the ball was wide of off stump.
Feeding off a senior partner who was batting like one, Haris grew in confidence and reached his half-century with a glance off his hips. The runs kept flowing, and the decades rolled away from the equation. When Pakistan needed 40 off 30, Haris smacked James Neesham over mid-off. With 27 required from 19, Afridi launched Kyle Mills over long-on. Taylor kept New Zealand in the game, running out Afridi with a direct hit when 13 were still required, but Wahab Riaz kept his cool at No. 8 to see Pakistan home with three balls remaining.
Pakistan had left out Umar Akmal, and the lack of urgency in their new-look top six – among whom Younis Khan boasted the highest strike rate, 75.33 – was shown up as they began their chase of 247. Never the most confident chasers, Pakistan lacked thrust at the top of the order, particularly with Sarfraz Ahmed batting at No. 7. The runs came at a trickle, and scoreboard pressure produced wickets. By the 18th over, they were 52 for 4.
Misbah-ul-Haq and Haris Sohail then added 34 in 48 balls – which was relatively brisk going, considering the pace of the innings till then – before Vettori sent back Misbah with a blinding one-handed grab at mid-on.
Sarfraz sparkled with positivity during his brief stint at the crease, his strokes finding hitherto unexplored parts of the ground and causing the team management, possibly, to wonder if his inventiveness would have been better served up the order. When he holed out to long-on in the 31st over, Pakistan were 124 for 5 and it looked like the game was up.
Sent in to bat, New Zealand had been in a similar situation – 111 for 5 in the 29th over – before Taylor rallied the lower-order to steer them to 246. Taylor last played an ODI back in January against India, but showed no signs of having been away, extending his form from that series to complete his third hundred on the bounce in the format.
The single that took Taylor to 100 caused him considerable pain, a lifter from Wahab Riaz in the final over catching him on his right thumb and going on to strike him on the neck. By then, though, he had ensured – via lower-order partnerships with Luke Ronchi, Daniel Vettori and Nathan McCullum – that New Zealand would set Pakistan a challenging target. At 111 for 5 in the 29th over, they had seemed in danger of falling short of 200.
With Mohammad Hafeez banned from bowling, there was serious doubt over how Pakistan would fill their fifth-bowler quota. Their five specialist batsmen apart from Hafeez had taken a combined haul of three ODI wickets.
It was a hole New Zealand might have looked to target when they were sent in to bat, but by the time Haris came on to bowl his left-arm spin, they were in no position to go after him, having lost two wickets to Mohammad Irfan in their first 11 overs.
Haris almost had Anton Devcich stumped with his second ball, with only a faint deflection off the pad causing the ball to elude Sarfraz’s gloves behind the wicket. Haris kept finding sharp, if slowish, turn off the dry Dubai surface, and bowled with enough control to fulfil the fifth bowler’s quota all by himself, and all in one spell, finishing with figures of 10-0-39-0.
By that time, New Zealand had lost three more wickets, and Taylor was waging a lone fight. Apart from a couple of thrillingly precise cuts off Afridi, he was batting in risk-free fashion, knocking the spinners for singles down the ground and either side of sweeper cover. He needed help.
He got that from Ronchi and Vettori, with whom he put on 44 and 58 for the sixth and seventh wickets. Having receded into the background during his partnership with Ronchi, Taylor’s scoring went up a gear during the last 10 overs. When Umar Gul dug one in short in the 44th over, he swatted him away over the midwicket boundary. Given width four balls later, he slapped Gul away through the covers.
The 200 came up in the next over, and Vettori swung Wahab away for fours off the first two balls of the 46th, before he walked too far across his stumps to a yorker. With McCullum and Taylor adding a further 33, New Zealand ended up taking 78 from the last 10 overs. (ESPNcricinfo)