Pakistan 279 for 8 (Babar 92, Fakhar 65, Haris 60, Ferguson 5-45) v New Zealand
35 for 1 (Worker 18*, Nicholls 15*, Shaheen 1-18) Match abandoned
Pakistan played what had looked like a solid enough game to finally win an ODI series against New Zealand, but when luck is out, it finds unique ways of making its presence felt. In this case, it was rain in the desert of Dubai that brought a watery end to proceedings seven overs into the New Zealand chase. Shaheen Afridi had removed dangerman Colin Munro in the first over in a chase of 280, and even though George Worker and Henry Nicholls had begun to rebuild, New Zealand will be much the happier side to shake hands in this manner.
It's hard not to wonder where this Pakistan side has been all along. Batting first against a team that has tormented them recently, Pakistan cast away the trepidation they appear to carry whenever they come up against an elite team of late, bossing the innings throughout as they racked up 279. A 108-run partnership between the irrepressible Babar Azam and an irresistible Haris Sohail today was at the heart of the domination, but in truth, Pakistan had control all along, with nothing that New Zealand did holding them back for long enough.
There were three half-centuries for Pakistan, but it wasn't until Haris Sohail came that they shifted gears. In a magnificent innings just when Pakistan needed to ensure they didn't fall away, he delivered against his favourite opposition. A glorious cover drive off Ish Sodhi got him off the mark, and was only a harbinger of what was to come. He swiftly took over as the senior partner from Babar as Pakistan's run rate shot up, each stroke he played more a work of art than a functional tool to get his side going. The best shot perhaps came against Trent Boult , a straight drive over the bowler's head that perfectly pierced the gap between mid-on and mid-off.
Boult was the unlikely man Pakistan chose to target today. The bowler has tormented Pakistan several times over the years, but today, Pakistan shook off any doubts they had and targetted the leader of New Zealand's pace attack. It didn't help the left-armer wasn't having his best day; New Zealand in general were guilty of being too short and wide to batsmen who expertly exploited that. But it was in particular the liking Haris took to Boult that set the tone for Pakistan's surge. The over after that straight drive, he carted another two boundaries off him, one glided past third man and the other a classy back-foot punch. Even when he came on in the death overs, he couldn't quite pull things back the way he's done so expertly of late. His final figures of 10-0-80-1 were the second most expensive of his ODI career.
The first hammer blow to the New Zealand solar plexus came before the coin was tossed, with news that Kane Williamson would not be able to play due to a groin injury. Tom Latham captained in his absence, while Matt Henry was chosen to replace Tim Southee. For Pakistan, Mohammad Hafeez was promoted to open the innings after Imam-ul-Haq couldn't recover from the blow to the head he sustained in the last game, and alongside Fakhar, he got Pakistan off to a crisp start.
Expectedly, Fakhar dominated the 64-run opening stand.New Zealand didn't look like taking a wicket until that point, but Hafeez unwittingly helped them when he stepped too far back to a Lockie Ferguson ball and trod on his stumps. Fakhar kept going, and brought up his second consecutive half-century. His innings, though, ended when he mistimed slog off Colin de Grandhomme.
Babar constructed his innings in a classy manner without being noticed. He quietly kept the scorecard ticking when Haris was on fire. He took 68 balls to bring up his fifty but caught up almost effortlessly towards the end of the innings finishing with 92 off 100. He was caught slogging on the boundary in the penultimate over in an innings he had tailored to serve his side's needs.
Lockie Ferguson was the bowler that once more most worried Pakistan, and it was perhaps his efforts that prevented Pakistan from getting to 300, a real possibility at one stage. Alongside de Grandhomme, he ensured Pakistan did not get too far ahead. Their combined figures of 18-0-79-6 helped undo some of the carnage Pakistan had wreaked on some of their team-mates. Three wickets in the final over helped Ferguson pick up his first career five-wicket haul, and will have done his future chances with the national side no harm.
For Pakistan, in the end, there is much encouragement to draw from this ODI series, even if a trophy at the end of it continues to elude them.