What should have been an easy game for Pakistan turned out to be the biggest nightmare yet for them in the ICC Cricket World Cup. The Group B encounter at the beautiful stadium decked among the hills showed the self destructing quality of Pakistan. An amazing display of stroke play from Ross Taylor in the final overs and a clinical bowling display enabled New Zealand achieve a big win – so big that they now top group B on net run rate!
Pallekele hosted its maiden one day international and it turned out to be a memorable one for the locals. New Zealand won the toss and decided to bat first. Shoaib Akhtar was only a shadow of his former self and his largesse with the new ball allowed the Kiwis a brisk start. Martin Guptill continued the fine form he has displayed through the tournament. Though New Zealand lost Brendon McCullum in the first over and Jamie How in the 13th over, they were progressing at a steady rate.
Ross Taylor was dropped twice at the start of his innings – in the first instance Pakistan wicket keeper Kamran Akmal did not even so much as attempt the catch but only watched as an edge flew past him and Younis Khan at slip and in a shocking second instance could not grasp a sitter in the same over. Taylor would make Pakistan pay dearly for their mistakes later on. The introduction of Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez into the attack enabled Pakistan take two quick wickets – Guptill was deceived in flight by Afridi and watched his stumps being rearranged while James Franklin was trapped in front of the wicket by Hafeez – and New Zealand appeared to be slipping.
A healthy partnership of 62 runs in 77 balls from Taylor and Scott Styris helped the Kiwis recover and at the 40 over stage, they were 163/4 and looked set to get to 250 – a fighting total. The use of bowlers in the end overs by the Pakistan skipper Afridi was baffling as he used up his and Umar Gul’s quota by the 46th over. He had to bowl with Akhtar, Razzaq and Rehman in the death overs and all of them leaked runs with a poor display of bowling not seen from a Pakistan bowling attack in this tournament. Jacob Oram was a spectator initially as Taylor waded into the attack. Taylor’s strength is in the arc between square leg and midwicket and the bowlers were actually bowling to his strengths as massive sixes were unfurled over the boundary at deep square leg and deep midwicket.
200 soon became 300 as New Zealand plundered 100 runs of the last 5 overs – something unheard of even in T20 cricket, let alone one day international cricket. A hapless Akhtar and Razzaq could only watch in horror as Taylor made merry on his birthday. New Zealand made 302/7 in their allotted overs with Taylor remaining unbeaten on a majestic 131 off 124 balls with 8 fours and 7 sixes.
Pakistan needed a strong start from its openers if they were to entertain any hopes of winning the contest. But soon their batting fell apart like a deck of cards as they slipped to 23/4 and then to 125/8 before a stubborn stand of 66 between Abdul Razzaq – who helped himself to a fifty – and Umar Gul delayed the inevitable. A defeat of 110 runs was imposed on them as New Zealand celebrated. Tim Southee excelled with 3/25 and was supported by Kyle Mills, Nathan McCullum and Scott Styris who picked two wickets each. Oram chipped in with the crucial wicket of Afridi.
New Zealand will be very pleased with the performance of their batsmen and bowlers alike. It seems that their recent run of poor form has finally ended. Nobody expected them to top their group at any stage of the tournament but there they are now. The team will be pumped up when they take on Canada and Sri Lanka in their final round robin encounters.
Pakistan, on the other hand, have a daunting task ahead of them. Shoaib Akhtar and Abdul Razzaq were woeful with the ball, Kamran Akmal was poor behind the stumps and the batsmen just showed no application whatsoever. Their quarter final spot is not in threat but the sooner they address their problems in all the three departments of the game, the better for them. Afridi had an off day as he picked up just one wicket. With the exception of Gul, the rest of the bowlers do not look like wicket takers which should be a massive worry. The failures of the opening batsmen continue to rankle them. They have a lot of thinking to do for the remaining matches.