(ESPN) A masterful hundred from Kane Williamson and world-class new ball bowling by Tim Southee and Trent Boult saw New Zealand get off to a winning start against Pakistan. They secured a 61-run win on the basis of the DLS method, though in truth, had the match not been cut short by rain, the margin of victory would have been even more decisive.
Any hopes Pakistan might have had of making a fist of a daunting chase were dashed in the first over. Tim Southee trapped Azhar Ali and Babar Azam off successive deliveries to reduce the visitors to 7 for 2. Replays showed that Babar’s dismissal would have been overturned on review, but Azhar had unwisely used up the referral when he was dismissed. That one was plumb, which meant, five balls into the chase, Pakistan had lost arguably their two best batsmen and their only review.
Boult was looking sharp from the other end, the only bowler from either side who got the ball to move. He got rid of Mohammad Hafeez with a well-targeted bouncer that the batsman unconvincingly fended away to fine leg. He couldn’t have picked out Southee any better if he had walked over and placed the ball in his grateful hands.
New Zealand were surging, and Southee removed Shoaib Malik soon after, before Astle trapped Sarfraz Ahmed lbw as he clumsily tried to sweep. Pakistan were 54 for five, the Champions Trophy winners looking no better than the West Indies side the hosts had hammered over the past few weeks.
Sent in to bat, New Zealand had gotten off to an excellent start, the opening partnership producing 83 as Colin Munro continued his fine form with a 35-ball 58. The scoring rate slowed slightly after his dismissal, but none of Pakistan’s bowlers looked particularly incisive as Williamson and Martin Guptill took control of the middle overs. They were masterful at judging Pakistan’s levels, quick to capitalise when they dropped even slightly.
On 26, Sarfraz dropped Williamson, a diving chance to his right when he edged Faheem Ashraf behind. The reprieve came at a time when New Zealand were slowly setting themselves up for a total over 300. It left Sarfraz rather red-faced; the Pakistan captain had just given one of his fielders an earful for sloppiness.
But as Guptill began to loosen his arms, Pakistan found a breakthrough in the unlikely form of Fakhar Zaman snaring his first international wicket. Hasan Ali returned to nip a budding partnership between Williamson and Ross Taylor, knocking over the latter’s off stump before it got out of hand. Latham lobbed Faheem – who was impressive on a quick pitch – next over, as Pakistan finally began to dominate a passage of play.
However, any thoughts of derailing New Zealand were firmly put to rest by a superb counter-attacking partnership between Williamson and Henry Nicholls. As Williamson approached his hundred, it was Nicholls who took control, manipulating the fielders with clever shotmaking, using both the reverse sweep and scoop to good measure. The running between the wickets, too, was sharp, as Pakistan’s tardiness in the field began to show.
Pakistan may be able to get satisfaction from their death bowling, which never really allowed New Zealand to tee off in the final overs. Rumman Raees, expensive in his first spell, returned and bowled far better, confounding the batsmen with changes of pace and other variations, while Mohammad Amir – though not at his best – is not the sort of bowler who goes for big runs often. The last five overs went for 38 runs as Pakistan managed to keep the total from getting too far out of hand.
The only Pakistan player who could emerge from the game with any credit was Fakhar, who had spent the first hour of the chase watching his partners come and go. He tried to take the attack to the bowlers, using his feet to the spin, striking sixes off consecutive Mitchell Santner deliveries and bringing up his 50 in 63 balls. Shadab Khan gave the opener capable support in the face of hostile fast bowling from Lockie Ferguson, who sent the speed gun north of 150 on several occasions. With the intensity from the hosts having dropped slightly, Fakhar and Shadab continued to battle on, putting on 78 before Boult returned to remove Shadab.
Fakhar continued to go for his shots, hurtling towards what could have been a gutsy hundred. Faheem Ashraf was good for a few lusty blows too, but the rain began to get heavier. New Zealand were streets ahead on DLS, the early wickets ensuring they kicked off the tour with a convincing win.