Pakistan and New Zealand. Pakistan, a team with fantastic pedigree at the ICC World Twenty20s; New Zealand dependent on one or two key players – usually good for a scrap, but not always a serious contender against the big teams. The two sides played to reputation at the Pallekele International Stadium on Sunday afternoon, where some solid hitting in the first half and disciplined bowling in the second took Pakistan to a 13-run win.
Batting first after winning the toss, Pakistan started brilliantly, with Mohammad Hafeez, the captain, and Imran Nazir having a strong go at the New Zealand bowling, opened by Kyle Mills and Daniel Vettori. The scoring rate hovered between eight and nine an over at this stage, and it remained there till the end of the innings.
Nazir fell, caught and bowled by Tim Southee, for a 16-ball 25, but with Nasir Jamshed walking in to partner Hafeez, things only got worse for New Zealand. The duo put on 76 for the second wicket in eight overs, and it looked like Pakistan might take its total close to 190, or even 200.
But with Hafeez (43 in 38 balls), Kamran Akmal (3 in 3) and Jamshed (56 in 35) falling between the 14th and 16th overs, the innings stuttered. It took a bit of late-order flourish from Umar Akmal (23 in 15) and Shahid Afridi (12 in 6) to keep the scoring rate up and end the 20 overs on a solid 177 for six.
From New Zealand’s point of view, Vettori was the most economical, giving away just 23 from his four overs, while Tim Southee (2 for 31) and Jacob Oram (2 for 44) were the most successful.
Chasing 178 was always going to be tough, whether Brendon McCullum got going or not. In any case, he got his chance only after Rob Nicol and Kane Williamson, the openers, had used up 40 balls to take the score to 53. It was slow going by Twenty20 standards, with Nicol getting his 33 runs in 28 balls and Williamson making 15 from 13.
McCullum was also slow – by his own swashbuckling standards and otherwise – in scoring 32 from 31 balls, and when he was dismissed in the 16th over with the score on 108, the match was heavily stacked in Pakistan’s favour.
Surprisingly, Ross Taylor, the captain, kept himself back, promoting Vettori (18 in 16 balls) and Oram (11 in 7) in the batting order. That decision could have changed the way the match eventually panned out because when Taylor did come in, he slammed 26 in 11 balls. By then though, the asking rate had shot through the roof, and despite some lusty hitting, wickets kept falling and the target remained out of reach.
Saeed Ajmal was again the best of Pakistan’s bowlers, returning figures of 4 for 30 from his four overs, saving his best for the death and keeping things tight just when New Zealand’s lower order threatened to pull off a miracle.
It was not a day of complete despair for New Zealand, though, with its narrow margin of defeat ensuring that it was through to the Super Eights by virtue of its Net Run Rate.