Grit over glamour for New Zealand
You have to admire New Zealand. Their victory against Pakistan was a stunning effort in defending a small target. To make it even more impressive Ian Butler, the man entrusted with the final over, was playing his first match of the tournament. The celebrations at the end suggested they'd won the tournament, but the win has ensured they still have a chance to do just that.
It was also the match the competition needed. The four Super Eight matches so far had included plenty of eye-catching action but the results had been one-sided. Yesterday, both India and West Indies were out of their run chases within the first few overs of the reply. Twenty20 not only needs outstanding individual contributions; it also needs close finishes.
New Zealand have been involved in the two tightest finishes of the tournament so far. They opened the event with a penultimate ball chase against Sri Lanka and it's no surprise they have come out on top in both edge-of-seat encounters. They are that sort team; fighting until the last and often finding that unlikely figure to pull off an unexpected victory.
Previously it was Nathan McCullum and this time it was Butler. He had the benefit of a recent positive memory against Pakistan after taking 4 for 44 in the Champions Trophy semi-final at the Wanderers. On that occasion he helped set-up victory, but this time he had to complete it.
The final over started with 12 needed and it was a series of six mini-dramas, each changing the momentum. The first four deliveries went dot, four, dot, four as Salman Butt, who held together Pakistan's faltering reply, slashed boundaries over short third man and through backward point. Crucially, though, he lost the strike with a penultimate ball bye which left Abdur Rehman on strike.
One run would have secured a Super Over and Daniel Vettori set an in-out field as he tried to cover his options. Rehman went for the victory blow but could only pick out deep square-leg who barely had to move. Butt sank to his knees while New Zealand players ran around like excitable children.
"You usually back yourself with 12 runs," Butler said. "I said to Hoppy [Gareth Hopkins] 'that's why we play the game', but after the four through point I was starting to doubt whether that was the case. As long as you keep yourself in the game death bowling is what you have to be good at."
It was a day where selection decisions - and tactical shifts - certainly played dividends. New Zealand took the brave call to leave out Jacob Oram, a potential match-winner with the bat even when not in the greatest of form, along with the more logical move of replacing the struggling Tim Southee. Between them the two replacements, Butler and Kyle Mills, took 5 for 52 from their eight overs. Shane Bond and Vettori, New Zealand's Twenty20 bankers, took 1 for 59 in their shared eight.
Even before the tense last over Butler had played a vital role as he removed Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi as Pakistan fell to 58 for 5. New Zealand's fielding earned them Afridi's scalp as Nathan McCullum recovered from a slight misjudgement at midwicket to take a superb catch diving forward at deep midwicket.
"We knew we were a little under par but we back ourselves as a bowling and fielding unit, that has always been our strength in any form of the game," Vettori said. "The selection of Ian and Kyle gave us a bit more impetus. We managed to take wickets and kept taking them which makes a difference. The total wasn't enough but we knew if we started well we had a chance."
Until today New Zealand had opened the bowling with McCullum's offspin - and he produced another vital display of 1 for 19 - but this time they reverted to the conventional ploy of two quicks. Mills and Bond responded with three wickets in the first 20 balls which put the skids under Pakistan and gave Vettori's team real hope.
"Looking through our history Kyle has been outstanding at the top of the order and we knew we needed to take early wickets," Vettori said. "Pakistan are pretty good players of spin so we wanted to give our swingers a chance. Also, the last time Ian bowled against them in the Champions Trophy he took four so we backed some past reputations and they came to fruition.
"It's quite exhausting playing in that heat and in an emotional game in terms of us scrapping to make 130-odd then putting them under pressure with the balance swinging backwards and forwards," he added. "We are pretty proud of what we achieved and it gives us a chance of going into the semis."
There are teams with more talent and flair at this tournament than New Zealand, yet no one can surpass them for their resilience.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo