When Pakistan began the tour of New Zealand, winning by 16 runs in the first Twenty20 International, it appeared that the side had the resources to push the home side. Fast forward to nearly two weeks later, and it seems that was just a minor hiccup on New Zealand’s part.
While it’s easy to paper over the cracks in the 20-over format, it’s less so in One-Day Internationals as Pakistan discovered in the first ODI in Wellington.
New Zealand was 99 for 6, courtesy Mohammad Amir’s triple strike, and it looked as if the side’s goose had been well and truly cooked, but Pakistan’s decision to introduce the spinners proved to be its downfall. Henry Nicholls, 24 and playing only his second ODI series, rode out a tricky passage of play with a composed 82.
The murmurs that New Zealand’s batting would prove to be brittle if Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson got out early were also effectively silenced as contributions from Mitchell Santner, Matt Henry and Mitchell McClenaghan lifted the side to 280 for 8.
Furthermore, when an Anwar Ali bouncer burst through the gap in McClenaghan’s helmet and hit him in the left eye, forcing the pacer to receive stitches in the second half of the game, his absence was barely felt as the rest of the attack chipped away at Pakistan to win the game by 70 runs.
With the three-match series on the line in the second ODI in Napier on Thursday (January 28), Grant Flower, Pakistan’s batting coach, didn’t mince words in his assessment of what the bowlers did wrong in the first game. “We didn’t use our brains at all towards the end,” he said. “Bowling yorkers is skill execution, and we didn’t do that.”
“It doesn’t seem like we’re learning from our mistakes – that’s the disappointing part. It’s one thing losing, but you’re paid to do a job and if you keep making the same mistakes, there are going to be questions asked.” Flower didn’t name names, but the lack of runs from Ahmed Shehzad in the tour has been worrisome. He can, however, take inspiration from the fact that he hit 93 in Napier last year in the World Cup against UAE. Pakistan has the firepower lower down the order, with Babar Azam and Sarfraz Ahmed capable of packing a punch, but runs at the top of the order will go a long way in lightening their load.
Meanwhile, New Zealand is unlikely to worry too much about the top-order collapse as it is an occurrence far and few between. In any case, BJ Watling is set to replace Luke Ronchi in the side for the second and third game, giving the home side reason to hope that it need not rely on the bowlers to do the bulk of the batting this time around. Watling, more known for his Test exploits, doesn’t possess a particularly impressive strike-rate but could lend some solidity to the line-up, while Tom Latham will hope to impress before Brendon McCullum returns for the third game.
With McClenaghan ruled out, Adam Milne is the likely candidate to walk into the playing XI although the management has called up Doug Bracewell as a replacement. Trent Boult’s return to form aside, the biggest plus for New Zealand has been Grant Elliott, who picked up 3 for 43 in Wellington. If he can chip in a bit more with the bat, New Zealand will have all the more reason to smile.
The only thing that could upset New Zealand’s plans in its quest for another series victory is the weather. Both teams cancelled training on Wednesday after large puddles had formed on the outfield and with the forecast suggesting rain until the afternoon, a shortened game is likely. Nevertheless, it is sink or swim for Pakistan and it will need more than rain to alleviate its woes on this tour.
New Zealand: Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Grant Elliott, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham (first two ODIs), Brendon McCullum (third ODI), Mitchell McClenaghan, Adam Milne, Colin Munro, Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner, BJ Watling, Kane Williamson (capt), Doug Bracewell.
Pakistan: Azhar Ali (capt), Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Sohaib Maqsood, Zafar Gohar, Imad Wasim, Anwar Ali, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Wahab Raiz, Rahat Ali, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Amir.