Thursday, 30 December 2010

Review Of The T20 Series vs New Zealand

I review the 3 Match T20 Series played between two sides who have been facing hardships and are desperately looking to find some form and confidence going into the World Cup

A re-furbished and modernised Eden Park played host to the first match of theT20 leg of the tour. The crowd turned up in their numbers on Boxing day to support their respective sides. The ground dimensions were small, especially straight. The pitch was fast paced and the ball came on to the bat nicely. Bowlers inevitably had their work cut out whereas batsmen would get value for their runs. Pakistan got off to a breath taking start with Hafeez and Afridi blazing away in promising style with 31 runs coming from just the first 3 over's. It was a highly pleasing start for the men in green. The intent was wonderful. However, Afridi then carelessly gave his wicket away as he so often does on the final ball of the 4th over with poor shot selection and execution. Shehzad entered the crease and looked good. He showed glimpses of positivity and executed some cracking strikes off the blade before being caught behind. At the conclusion of the PP overs PK were nicely placed at 58-2. However, then Southee made his mark with a hattrick in the 8th over of PKs innings. He bowled a perfect length, controlled the white ball as well as getting some luck which is so needed for any fast bowler in Twenty20 cricket with a few lucky decisions going his way. Suddenly PK had their backs to the wall, being 68/6 in the 10th over. It was bitterly disappointing for the Pakistani fans, but at the same time one has to acknowledge the brilliance of Tim's spell where he bowled with thought, purpose and precision to tear through Pakistan's batting line up. PK managed to post 143-9 in the end with 16 invaluable runs coming in the final over thanks to some responsible and fine striking from the lower order, especially Wahab Riaz who contributed with an unbeaten 30 and Gul who also made 30 which enabled Pakistan to reach respectability and have some hope and momentum going into the field. The lower order demonstrated their credentials and relished the shortened boundaries. However, some highly questionable thinking and captaincy from Afridi which followed proved costly as he decided to open the bowling with Razzaq. 15 runs came from the first over which set the tone for the NZ innings. Akhtar bowled a fiery spell up front where he claimed 3 scalps with sheer pace. However, Guptill had other ideas and was looking in fine touch. He scored a well deserved half century and ensured NZ stayed ahead of the required run rate. Ross Taylor played a responsible captain's knock to finish the job and guide New Zealand home in style with 17 balls and 5 wickets to spare as the Black Caps took a moral boosting 1-0 lead with 2 to play in due course.

The second Twenty20 was played at Hamilton. Afridi won the toss and opted to insert the home side into bat. The change of strategy and mindset had the potential to change fortunes. The greens got off to a sensational start when Ryder was caught off the inside edge on the first ball of the game by make shift keeper Umar Akmal who was impressive and showed sound technique and composure. However, after that, the pressure was totally released and the Kiwis began to dictate terms and get away freely thanks to a substantial 2nd wicket stand of 90 odd between Guptill who continued his brilliant form and Franklin who got the opportunity to bat at number 3. From there on the foundations were laid for New Zealand to kick on and post a commanding total which they did by aggressive striking, innovation and second guessing the bowlers targets. New Zealand concluded on a match winning total of 185/7. The pick of the Pakistani bowlers was Saeed Ajmal which was pleasing to see as he had not really made a contribution or impact for a while. The unorthodox spinner finished with respectable figures of 3-35. Pakistan started off promisingly once more with Hafeez timing and middling the ball spectacularly. He unleashed some remarkable shots and was on song. However, a careless run out and quick succession of wickets which followed set back Pakistan's advance as the required run rate was increasingly climbing to mere impossible grounds. The New Zealand spinners bowled exceptionally well, taking 4-36 combined in their 8 overs. They bowled with good accuracy, trajectory and ran through their over's quickly. Inevitably Pakistan were well short by a margin of 39 runs as New Zealand comfortably took the series honours. Now it was a question of whether Pakistan could salvage some pride by winning the dead rubber ahead of more tougher assignments which will follow. A victory was desperately needed just to gain a sense of positivity, restore hope and prevent embarrassment.

Pakistan won the toss at Christchurch and elected to bat first. Hafeez and Shehzad played extremely well early on and set a splendid platform, putting on 81 for the first wicket. Shehzad caught the eye and impressed with his hard blooded on drives and lusty blows when hitting through the line on the off side. He dominated proceedings with his free scoring stylish stroke play and looked in tremendous touch which was heartening to see. Franklin got the necessary break throughs, before Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq partnered at the wicket and struggled to get going and consolidate on an excellent foundation which way laid by the openers. From being 81/1 in the 9th over Pakistan slumped to 106/4 in the 14th. Umar Akmal demonstrated his intent and skill with 30 runs from just 19 deliveries before being caught in the final over. Abdul Razzaq finished off the job as 19 runs came from the final 5 deliveries and Razzaq concluded with an awesome display of clean destructive striking with 34* from just 11 deliveries in his final international appearance in a golden year for him personally. Pakistan finished up on a highly competitive 183/6.
New Zealand's innings never got going as they lost the in from Guptill in the very first over of the innings, caught in the gully area off a moving delivery from Razzaq. Tanvir Ahmed then got his first T20 wicket in his first over just like he did on his Test Match debut. Afridi also brilliantly ran out the number 3 with a direct hit from mid off. Razzaq followed it up by trapping the NZ skipper in front with an in dipper. New Zealand were 3/4 and then 11/5. Razzaq finished up with outstanding figures of 3-13 up front. It was an excellent day for him as he took the match completely away from New Zealand's grasp with sheer skill, dominance and thoughtfulness. Afridi then joined the party towards the end and revived his bowling form by taking 4-14 in just 17 deliveries with his sharp drift, guile and accuracy. In the process he also became the first bowler to reach 50 wickets in international twenty20. This was encouraging to see and hopefully he will be able to maintain this positive rhythm, control and mystery as this is a job which he needs to do with reliability and effectiveness primarily as his batting and captaincy is more or less mediocre as one will realise over time. Good positive signs for Pakistan overall. He can be a key impact player on his day but his bowling leads the way. Pakistan subsequently won the match by a comprehensive margin of 103 runs as New Zealand were demolished for a disappointing 80 as the visitors finally had something to smile about.

That's why Pakistan are the number 1 T20 side in the world. Today they showed exactly why. Everything fell into place. It's about as good as it gets. When they come to the party and click like they did today, they are well and truly unstoppable. When it happens, it feels so damn good. The beauty of Pakistan Cricket. Long may this continue. Psychologically one really comprehensive and clinical victory like today is arguably bigger than a series win. Perhaps this is the start of bigger and better things to come?

3 Leading Run Scorers

1) Hafeez 104
2) Guptill 98
3) Styris 86

3 Leading Wicket Takers

1) Southee 8
2) Afridi 5
3) McCullum 5

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