Pakistan 181 for 6 (Zaman 46, Sarfraz 29, Santner 2-24) beat New Zealand 163 for 6 (Guptill 59, Taylor 25, Shadab 2-19) by 18 runs
They may remember this as a difficult tour, but Pakistan have had the last laugh on it. In a high-pressure, series-deciding, tour-shaping, third and final T20I, Pakistan overpowered New Zealand, setting them a daunting 182 to win and then constricting them in the field. This might have shaped up to be the cracker this series hasn't yet had, but true to form, a close finish was never really on the cards. However, it was Sarfraz Ahmed's men who were responsible for that this time, showing the sort of form that, had it arrived a few games early, could have rendered this series a classic.
Pakistan won the toss and batted first again, looking to maintain the template of the previous T20I game. They did get off to a similarly positive start, with Ahmed Shehzad timing the ball beautifully. A crisp on-drive followed by a glorious cover drive in the third over off Tim Southee set Pakistan on their way.
But this was an improved New Zealand bowling performance, with Pakistan not able to cut loose in the way they did in Auckland. Colin de Grandhomme struck in the fourth over to remove Shehzad, and the run rate slowed. Fakhar Zaman kept Pakistan ticking, but at the halfway mark Pakistan were 72 for 2, largely due to a disciplined New Zealand that keeping them on a leash.
Mitchell Santner was New Zealand's best bowling option, chipping in with two wickets and driving the run rate down. He took the all-important wicket of Zaman, who was controversially given out caught on the boundary, with several replays unable to deliver a conclusive verdict. A lovely flighted delivery took care of Sarfraz after he was beginning to look dangerous, and Pakistan were in danger of falling away.
The turning point in the match, though, was Ish Sodhi's final over. Umar Amin took him to task, plundering the legspinner for three sixes in an over that brought 21. Even though he holed out to long-on off the last ball, the tempo for the death overs had been set.
New Zealand became sloppy in the field and Pakistan's middle order took full advantage. Even as Kane Williamson brought Southee and Trent Boult back on to close out the innings, they couldn't keep Pakistan from surging above 180, with 58 runs conceded off the last four overs.
The momentum carried through to the second innings, where New Zealand made a solid start without being allowed to take proper advantage of the Powerplay. Martin Guptill was in good touch, but Williamson, opening in the absence of the injured Colin Munro, couldn't help him get the start New Zealand required.
Faheem Ashraf removed the captain with his first ball in the attack. Williamson looked to slash him over point, the shot carrying straight to the fielder to end a 14-ball struggle in which he had managed just 9.
It was a quick three-over spell, just after the Powerplay, that, in hindsight, took the game out of New Zealand's hands once and for all. Seven runs came off the three overs as Guptill's momentum was stalled, and suddenly even rotating the strike became a challenge, even with the fielders pushed back. As perhaps anyone sitting through this series might have expected, Shadab Khan bowled two of them, showing immense control with his flight and pace, the batsmen unable to get a read of his length, or which way the ball would turn. The asking rate was suddenly pushing 12, and New Zealand's reliance on Guptill's explosiveness increased exponentially.
New Zealand suddenly looked like they were lacking the power hitting that is such a hallmark of their game, and scoreboard pressure took its toll. Anaru Kitchen was dismissed after charging Shadab and hopelessly missing, leaving Sarfraz to execute a simple stumping. Guptill and de Grandhomme then fell within four balls of each other, each attempting big heaves that were neither on nor well timed.
The final overs provided a pang of nostalgia as Ross Taylor unsheathed his slog sweep after years of disuse. The most optimistic home fans may even have momentarily dreamed of a miracle win as Taylor smashed three sixes in a 11-ball 25, but there was an ephemeral nature to the innings, and when he edged behind to Sarfraz off Mohammad Amir, New Zealand needed a steep 54 from 21 balls.
From thereon, the game just went through the motions as Pakistan ended the series with a swagger. It may have been a difficult, at times an embarrassing tour for Pakistan. But an 18-run win to close it, a T20I series win and the world No. 1 ranking in the format is decent reward for a tour that may generally be regarded as a disappointment.