New Zealand clinch last-ball thriller
In a tournament of largely one-sided matches, New Zealand pulled off their second nail-biting victory and their first Twenty20 win over defending champions Pakistan, who are now on the brink of elimination. After rescuer-in-chief Daniel Vettori revived his side following the failure of big names, New Zealand survived an Abdul Razzaq onslaught and Salman Butt's level-headed batting to come through by one run and boost their chances of making the semi-finals.
Pakistan's army of spinners was outstanding in Barbados to keep New Zealand down to what seemed a below-par total, but once captain Shahid Afridi was dismissed in the 10th over following a middle-order collapse, the score was 58 for 5 and New Zealand looked in charge.
Butt and Razzaq were the last recognised batting pair, and they played calm cricket, picking 19 off four overs, during which New Zealand's advantage increased. Razzaq had patiently made 5 of 16 deliveries when he gave yet another exhibition of his ability to transform Twenty20 matches, blitzing two mammoth sixes and a four off Vettori in four balls. He had trouble against Shane Bond's short and slow deliveries, missing four in a row, before finishing off the over with a humongous hit that just about stayed in the stadium.
With 26 needed off 18, and two dangerous batsmen at the crease, the Pakistan dug-out was a happier place. Time for the match to swing again: Nathan McCullum, who has been New Zealand's best player this tournament, got one to bounce extra and Razzaq's attempt to again clear long-on ended up as a catch to deep midwicket.
Butt reached his half-century off the next delivery, and caressed the first ball of the penultimate over beyond deep extra cover for six to keep the game on edge. A series of singles rounded off the over, and made it 11 needed off the final six balls.
Ian Butler, preferred over Jacob Oram, stepped up to bowl. The first four deliveries reflected the game's fluctuating pattern: dot, four, dot, four, as Butt swung-and-missed twice and connected twice. To continue the pattern, Butt missed the next delivery, a yorker just beyond leg stump, but the batsmen sneaked a bye, though Gareth Hopkins hit direct at the keeper's end.
Two required off the final ball, with Abdur Rehman on strike. After lengthy discussions about the field, Butler charged in and served up a length ball on the pads - ripe for the hitting, but it was only struck as far as Martin Guptill at deep square leg. That confirmed Pakistan's defeat and ruined Rehman's first international match in nearly three years, one in which he had been terrific with the ball earlier on.
Rehman had put the skids on New Zealand's top-order after Brendon McCullum and Jesse Ryder provided New Zealand their first substantial start of the tournament. Guptill was one of several batsmen who were unable to come to terms with the spinners, being beaten several times by Rehman before falling to a diving one-handed catch at long-on by Umar Akmal.
The biggest blows for New Zealand came soon after, in the space of seven deliveries. McCullum, quieter after a series of early fours, top-edged a sweep to deep square leg, following which Ross Taylor, still to make an impact in the World Twenty20, nicked Mohammad Sami to the keeper. New Zealand slid to 58 for 4 in the tenth over, bringing in Vettori to do his familiar firefighting.
Against Shahid Afridi, who was varying his pace cleverly, and Saeed Ajmal, called on to play the Umar Gul-role of bowling four overs straight towards the end of the innings, Vettori was happy to play a series of sweeps and flat-batted hits down the ground to make more than twice his previous Twenty20 high. Vettori chalked up his first two sixes in international Twenty20, and Nathan McCullum finished off the innings with a swipe over midwicket which proved vital in a match so close that the difference between the two team's scores was never more than three at the end of each of the final five overs.
Still, on a pitch that didn't have much sideways movement, and with plenty of true bounce, 133 should have been easily overhauled. But Pakistan's main batsmen, with the exception of Butt, had a tough time against New Zealand's quick bowlers. Kamran Akmal inside-edged a slower ball from Kyle Mills, Mohammad Hafeez was undone by a kicker from Bond, and a short ball from Mills took out Umar for a golden duck. Misbah-ul-Haq's misery ended when he was lbw on his 13th ball for 3, and Afridi fell to a forward-diving blinder from Nathan McCullum at midwicket . Pakistan's top-order matched the limpness of their New Zealand counterparts and set up a low-scoring thriller for the Barbados crowd which has witnessed four one-side matches in two days.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo