Pakistan turned things around in impressive fashion in New Zealand. Having lost six consecutive white ball matches to the hosts, the tourists pulled two excellent performances out of the bag to win the final two T20Is, take the series 2-1 and leapfroging their opponents at the top of the ICC T20I Team Rankings.
It is some achievement and Player of the Series, Mohammed Amir, put their success down to the confidence given to the players by the coaches. Having been flayed all around New Zealand in a 5-0 ODI whitewash, it would have been understandable for the bowlers to go into their shells in the T20Is, but Amir says they did the exact opposite, with the coaches encouraging them to express themselves and bowl their variations.
"It has been a tough tour for us, and to win this is special, especially after what happened in the ODI series," he said. "In this format we were using our variations. Credit goes to the team management because we've been working hard on those techniques in the nets. The ODIs didn't go well, but this series win and this award means a lot."
Building on the back of their 201/4 in their successful second T20I in Auckland, Pakistan's top order, led by opener Fakhar Zaman's 46 from 36 balls, fired once again. The top six all made more than 18 at a strike rate of over 100 with Sarfraz Ahmed (29), Haris Sohail (20*), Umar Amin (21) and Aamer Yamim (15* from 6 balls) the stand-outs. New Zealand kept taking wickets, but Pakistan reached a more than competitive 181/6 from their 20 overs.
In reply, New Zealand opener Martin Guptill smashed 59 from 43 deliveries to give the hosts a good chance, but once again Pakistan stood up. Shadab Khan (2/19) dismissed Anaru Kitchen and Guptill in a single over to turn the game on its head. Amir himself took 1/23, while Aamer Yamim was also impressive picking up figures of 1/25. Ross Taylor struck three sixes in his 25 from 11 balls, and Mitchell Santner threatened with 24* from 12, but Pakistan tightened the screws to get home by 18 runs.
Captain Sarfraz Ahmed, who was heard celebrating exuberantly on the stump microphone after the final ball, was delighted with his side's final two performances which turned the series around completely.
"It's not easy coming back after 6-0," he said. "I just told the boys, 'nothing to lose. We're 6-0, worse case we'll be 8-0'. Fakhar was great today, and the wickets in hand helped at the end. The way Haris, Amin batted are excellent. Being number one in the world is all thanks to the hard work of my team and the management."
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson was understandably deflated, having gone from a 5-0 ODI whitewash to a 2-1 T20I defeat in quick time. He praised Pakistan for the way they turned things around an put pressure on the Blackcaps.
"We know T20 is a fine line, and it was close-ish, but credit to them for doing well in all facets," he said. "We need to come into grounds and identify what we need to adapt to. All in all our bowling has improved, but with the bat it's always a challenge with the run-rate going high in this format. Our fielding is something we pride ourselves on, and we do want to do better there ahead of the tri-series."
New Zealand travel to Australia to play a T20I tri-series against the hosts and England next week before taking on England in a home five-match ODI series and two Tests.