Most of the focus in Friday’s first Twenty20 International between New Zealand and Pakistan in Auckland was on one man, Mohammad Amir, the 23-year old pacer, who made his international return more than five years after being blighted by his involvement in the spot-fixing scandal in 2010. While Amir’s comeback game was a decent one – he returned 1 for 31 in four overs – it was Shahid Afridi, the Pakistan captain, who stole the show.
Not many would have expected Pakistan to head into the second game of the three-match away series, to be played at Seddon park, Hamilton, on Sunday, with a 1-0 lead against a strong New Zealand side. It was made possible by Afridi, whose stellar all-round show saw him do just about everything right on the cricket field.
First, his cameo of 23 off eight balls took Pakistan to a healthy 171 for 8 after it was asked to bat. Then, he took two wickets to return figures of 2 for 26 in four overs, took three catches and effected a run out. The result was a 16-run win for Pakistan and a well-deserved Man of the Match award for its captain.
Pakistan came up with a near-perfect performance in that match. Most of the batsmen made a decent contribution, with Mohammad Hafeez taking the honours for his 47-ball 61 that set them up for a big score. It was a team effort with the ball too, as the bowlers hunted in a pack. Imad Wasim, the left-arm spinner, who shared the new ball with Amir, was the pick of the lot, for his miserly returns of 1 for 18 in four overs. What made the win more praiseworthy was the fact that Pakistan had no warm-up game to acclimatise to the conditions in New Zealand.
Pakistan has a star-studded bowling line-up that is more than capable of stalling New Zealand’s attacking style of batting. The conditions in New Zealand are conducive to pace and swing, and in Umar Gul and Wahab Riaz, it has two experienced campaigners who are capable of using the conditions on offer to optimum effect. Mohammad Amir’s skills with the ball have already been on display in his short career, and the trio form a potent pace attack, which will make for an interesting battle against New Zealand’s explosive batting order. Pakistan also have enough variety in the spin department, with Wasim’s left-arm spin, Afridi’s legspin and Shoaib Malik’s offspin. Both Afridi and Wasim demonstrated in the previous match that the spinners can more than hold their own in these conditions.
Pakistan also has a strong batting order than can match New Zealand’s aggressive strokeplay. Hafeez and Ahmed Shehzad make for a good combination at the top. The experience of Malik, the talent of Umar Akmal, and the explosiveness of Afridi make it the among the most dangerous and destructive batting line-ups in the short format.
New Zealand, meanwhile, has a few issues to iron out. It found out in the previous match that it will be hard work against Pakistan’s bowlers. Instances of New Zealand’s batsmen demolishing the opposition have been common in the recent past, but there may not be too many of those in this series. Kane Williamson scored a composed 70 and Colin Munro blasted a 27-ball 56, but none of the other batsmen could attack. Corey Anderson and Grant Elliott are still dusting off rustiness after extended spells on the sidelines.
New Zealand, however, will receive a shot in the arm with the return Ross Taylor, who was rested for the previous match. But it will be interesting to see who makes way for Taylor. New Zealand has enough bowlers in its arsenal, so it may opt for an extra batsman by dropping one of the frontline pacemen. While Corey Anderson will likely retain his place, New Zealand has two other allrounders, Mitchell Santner, who bowls left-arm spin, and Todd Astle, who bowls legspin, and one of them could miss out.
New Zealand played three pacers in the previous match, Trent Boult, Matt Henry and Adam Milne, who took a four-wicket haul. The team will have another problem of sorts on its hands if Mitchell McClenaghan, who missed the previous game with a niggle, recovers as it will have to think of a way of slotting him in.
Pakistan is riding high on confidence, while New Zealand’s strength at home is unquestionable. The first T20I served as a prelude to what could be an exciting series, and another cracker of a contest could be on the cards on Sunday.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Corey Anderson, Todd Astle, Trent Boult, Grant Elliott, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Mitchell McClenaghan, Adam Milne, Colin Munro, Luke Ronchi (wk), Mitchell Santner, Ross Taylor.
Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (capt), Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Sohaib Maqsood, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Anwar Ali, Aamer Yamin, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Wahab Riaz, Umar Gul, Mohammad Rizwan, Saad Nasim, Mohammad Amir.