Shaheen leads Pakistan to win over NZ

Shaheen Afridi

(ESPN) Pakistan finally managed to stop New Zealand’s 12-match winning streak against them in ODIs, and it came via one of their better performances since the 2017 Champions Trophy final. This meant they also kept the series alive heading into Dubai for the finale. Fakhar Zaman made his first half-century in Asia – it could’ve been a hundred if not for a wild slog – as Pakistan cruised to a six-wicket victory after Shaheen Afridi’s four-for restricted New Zealand to 210.

Fakhar and Imam-ul-Haq started solidly, but the stand was only broken courtesy a sickening blow to the head that forced Imam off the field. Lockie Ferguson’s sharp bouncer smashed into his grille to leave him shaken. While he expressed a desire to stay on, it was clear he needed medical attention.

In resetting their focus, Pakistan couldn’t have hoped for a more imperturbable batsman than Babar Azam at No. 3. He immediately set about his innings with the effortless glory that has become his hallmark. A magnificent cover drive that would have drawn purrs from a Test crowd was the shot of the day, but it was one amid a flurry of boundaries that almost completely neutralised Ferguson. Fakhar at the other end was batting as if his recent struggles hadn’t happened, perhaps emancipated by the reduced pressure of a smaller chase.

New Zealand needed wickets at the top to make this competitive, but the first didn’t come until Pakistan had crossed 150. Fakhar and Babar did fall within three balls of each other to find personal milestones withheld from them – Fakhar was 12 runs short of a 100 and Babar four away from 50 – but with just 55 runs away, they had ensured their side would not be denied.

Pakistan had kept New Zealand to that total due to a fantastic team effort in the field, but even so, Shaheen Afridi stood out. He had the ascendancy over New Zealand whether he came on at the start or the finish, tight with his lines and menacing with his lengths. His four-fer punctured New Zealand at both ends of the innings, and ensured they wouldn’t be able to run away and post the sort of total that has discomfited Pakistan so frequently in recent times.

Ross Taylor was again the glue through the middle overs for the visitors unbeaten on 86 by the end. But unlike the game on Wednesday, he had no partner that stuck with him through the innings. As a consequence, New Zealand fell behind in the middle overs, and the constant fall of wickets meant they were poorly positioned for a big finish.

Runs from the top order were again hard to come by, as Colin Munro couldn’t convert a bright start into a more substantial innings, but the killer blow came with the dismissal of Kane Williamson. George Worker drove Afridi back down the ground, and the lanky teenager stooped low enough to get a finger on the ball. Williamson was stranded hopelessly far down the crease, and could only watch in despair as the ball hit the stumps at the bowler’s end. It could not have been more unfortunate, and from New Zealand’s perspective, it was the worst possible man for that misfortune to befall.

Worker produced, well, a workmanlike innings to give Taylor some company, but just as he began to establish himself and the partnership approached 50, Taylor’s recent bete noire Mohammad Hafeez came into the attack and bowled him. Next over, Afridi, who had a fantastic day in the field, bowled Tom Latham with a searing yorker. That dismissal changed the trajectory of the innings, as New Zealand found themselves deprived of a quick scorer who would serve as the ideal foil for Taylor.

Even when Afridi was called upon to return in the death overs, he was positively measly in his lines and lengths. The full delivery was accurate enough to make it impossible to get under, and the number of variations, and the maturity to understand when to use them, was superb.

When Hasan Ali, last year’s star in the final overs, was smashed by Ish Sodhi for the innings most expensive over, Afridi returned to befuddle him all over, with a slower ball that took middle stump with it putting him out of his misery. It was a shame not to see him bowl out his full quota, and in the process deny him a five-for he was arguably odds on for; he finished with 4 for 38 in nine.

Nicholls and Taylor had rebuilt through the middle overs, but not with the lively urgency of Latham in the previous game. Their partnership of 75 was vital in ensuring the visitors weren’t bowled out, but it came in 21 overs, removing any chance of the 250-plus score they would have been comfortable with at the dinner break.

Shadab Khan was exceptionally tight in his line, by far the most economical of the bowlers, conceding only 25 in his full quota. Hafeez provided accurate support alongside him, and this time, Taylor opted to focus on the task at hand rather than the degrees the bowler’s elbow as bending.

It was a freaky game in a number of ways, what with Imam’s injury and Williamson’s dismissal. The way Shoaib Malik got out perhaps topped them both, with the allrounder smashing – no exaggeration – a pull shot flush into Nicholls right shoulder at short leg. The ball popped up, and Sodhi ran in from the edge of the circle to complete a comfortable catch. It was that sort of game, but if you’re a Pakistan game, you’ll only remember it as the sort of game that ended the unlikeliest losing streak Pakistan could possibly have endured.

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