Fleming leads NZ to deserving win
New Zealand became the first side to qualify for the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy when they eased past Pakistan by 51 runs to register their second win of the tournament. In their 500th one-day international, and in Stephen Fleming's 194th match as captain - a world record - New Zealand notched up an impressive result with a clinical allround display. Scott Styris (86) and Fleming (80) led the way with the bat, while the lower order spanked vital runs towards the end to lift them to an imposing 274 for 7. New Zealand then withstood a spirited run-chase to restrict Pakistan to 223, with Fleming fittingly taking the final catch and the Man-of-the-Match award.
Pakistan were coming off a wonderful win against Sri Lanka in a similar run-chase, but this time the target proved just a little too stiff, despite a typically classy and unhurried 71 from Mohammad Yousuf and his 94-run stand with Shoaib Malik, who contributed yet another half-century. Ultimately, though, New Zealand deserved the win for battling through unfavourable conditions - in spite of the chemical spray, there was still a generous amount of dew which made bowling difficult late in the evening.
Pakistan finally fell 51 short, but midway into their innings it seemed they might pull it off. Mohammad Hafeez's fluent 43 offered early impetus to the innings and ensured that the asking rate didn't spiral upwards from the start, but the most critical part of their innings was the Malik-Yousuf partnership.
They came together when the low-percentage move to promote Shahid Afridi backfired for the second match in a row, reducing Pakistan to 83 for 4. Immediately both resorted to common-sense cricket, knocking the ball in the gaps, eschewing the risks, and keeping the score ticking over mainly with singles. It wasn't easy, though, as Jacob Oram got plenty of bounce from a responsive pitch and Daniel Vettori varied flight and speed in an impressive spell, despite having to bowl with a damp ball as the dew slowly took effect.
Yousuf showed his class again, playing with ease in difficult conditions. Rarely hurried in his strokeplay, he drove with panache, and rode the bounce quite superbly to execute a couple of gorgeous pulls on the way to his 51st ODI half-century. Malik was troubled far more by the bounce that Oram managed, but even he hung on, and with the asking rate hovering around seven an over with Abdul Razzaq to follow, Pakistan were in good shape.
From there, though, it went pear-shaped. Bond came back for another spell to try and break the partnership, and he did just that, not only forcing Yousuf to slice a drive but also then getting rid of Razzaq. Malik fell an over later, and from there it was only a matter of trying to get close to New Zealand's total and ensure that their net run rate didn't take a huge beating.
New Zealand's innings followed a pattern too, with the only difference being the brutal charge at the end. They lost early wickets, three of them, with only 60 on the board, rebuilt quite sensibly with an 88-run stand at less than four an over, and then, with wickets in hand, exploded quite spectacularly towards the end.
So far in this tournament Fleming has played a lone hand for New Zealand with the bat, but today he received generous assistance from his mates. Styris started scratchily but grew in confidence, especially after a back spasm required the services of Lou Vincent as his runner, while Oram and Brendon McCullum played extremely vital roles as well.
The groundwork, though, was done by Fleming and Styris. In conditions not easy for batting - it jagged around significantly with the new ball, and there were plenty of plays-and-misses - Fleming, especially, batted quite expertly, playing close to the body, not bothering about the jaffas that beat him, and choosing the deliveries to attack with plenty of care. As in most of his innings, he was magnificent when he leaned into his cover-drives or flicked and pulled on the leg side, but more than those strokes, his innings was special for the manner in which he took on the responsibility of seeing the team through the early difficulties.
In that task he was ably assisted by Styris, who rode his luck early on - he should have been lbw on 10 and run out on 16 - and then had a blast towards the end. The first part of his innings consisted mainly of nudges and flicks - he had 53 from 88 balls when the runner was summoned - but his last 33 came off 25 balls as he capitalised on the hard work done earlier.
Pakistan's bowlers contributed handsomely to the carnage at the end - the last eight overs yielded 89 - as they repeatedly pitched it short or on a good length. Oram, who has been struggling against spin recently, came out of his shell, clattering 31 from 26 balls - including a quite incredible reverse-sweep off Shahid Afridi - while McCullum blasted 27 from 13, savagely clobbering the length balls all over the park. The late surge converted what seemed like a challenging total into a formidable one, and despite Pakistan's spirited effort, the runs were a few too many.
The result ensures New Zealand a place in the semi-finals, and also puts Sri Lanka out of the competition. The last match of the group - between Pakistan and South Africa at Mohali on Friday - is now a virtual quarter-final, with the winner going through to join New Zealand in the last four.
Lou Vincent b Gul 3 (3 for 1)
Attempted an ambitious drive, but left a huge gap between bat and pad
Nathan Astle c Younis b Naved 15 (23 for 2)
Drove without moving his feet and edged to second slip
Peter Fulton lbw b Iftikhar 7 (60 for 3)
Marginal decision after he was hit in front of leg by an indipper
Stephen Fleming c & b Malik 80 (168 for 4)
Prepared to sweep, changed his mind, and knocked it straight back to the bowler
Jacob Oram c Gul b Razzaq 31 (220 for 5)
Top-edged a slog to third man
Scott Styris c Iftikhar b Gul 86 (254 for 6)
Moved away from the stumps and carted to long-off
Brendon McCullum c Malik b Razzaq 27 (270 for 7)
Lofted to long-off
Imran Farhat c Mills b Bond 6 (22 for 1)
Short and wide, skied to third man
Younis Khan c Vincent b Mills 2 (45 for 2)
Cut straight to point
Mohammad Hafeez c McCullum b Oram 43 (65 for 3)
Drove at a lifting delivery and edged to a diving keeper
Shahid Afridi c Bond b Oram 4 (83 for 4)
Top-edged a front-foot pull to short fine leg
Mohammad Yousuf c Fleming b Bond 71 (177 for 5)
Sliced a drive to cover
Abdul Razzaq c Franklin b Bond 6 (195 for 6)
Lofted to long-on
Shoaib Malik c Astle b Vettori 52 (202 for 7)
Miscued a slog to mid-off
Rana Naved-ul-Hasan c McCullum b Franklin 1 (205 for 8)
Gloved a pull to the wicketkeeper
Umar Gul run out 8 (223 for 9)
Beaten by a direct hit from point
Kamran Akmal c Fleming b Mills 16 (223 all out)
Mistimed to mid-on
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo