Chasing targets is not really a forte of the Pakistanis. More often than not they are known to stumble even when the target is not all that daunting. The Black Caps batting in fine fettle on Thursday set up a significant 267 to make, at an asking rate of 5.34. But this new-look Pakistan team under a new skipper seemed quite determined to do it right this time round, with Shahid Afridi leading their charge with a blitz of 70 off only 43 deliveries, bludgeoning seven fours and six really huge sixes.
This really was explosive stuff even by Afridi's standards! His innings enthralled the very sizable crowd in this Sharjah Cricket Stadium, but more importantly for his side, his knock was followed by big unconquered displays by Saeed Anwar (81, 95 balls, 10 fours, two sixes) and Inzamam (71, 90 balls, 10 fours) helping maintain their unbeaten run in this three-nation ARY Gold Cup.
Right when it seemed that he could coast past the hundred mark and put the issue beyond the Kiwis, all on his own, Afridi perished like he often does - essaying one big shot too many. In the course of this quite eventful innings, he did stroke his way to the fastest 50 of the tournament, off a mere 24 deliveries to be in line for the Shell Helix Fastest 50 Award.
The Pakistanis went for the jugular right from the word go, as Saeed was held back and the two young openers sent in with instructions to go for the kill from the word go. The rest was done by Afridi, and such a clean striker of the ball that he is, the way he went about polishing off the target, a normally quicksilver Imran Nazir seemed to look like a 'strokeless wonder'. And when these two were not striking boundaries, they were gathering singles and twos at such a quick pace that the normally very quick athletic Kiwi fielders too seemed to be slow in comparison.
By the time Afridi went, and Nazir followed almost immediately, the result was a foregone conclusion especially because Inzamam seemed to be in his big-scoring mood, hitting boundaries at will to both sides of the ground to the joy of the partisan crowd.
Soon Saeed Anwar was matching him stroke for stroke, to the extent that Inzamam and Anwar both reached their fifties one after the other, the latter, however, going for bigger strokes once he got set. The hapless Kiwi bowling had no answer to the stroke-making of these two seasoned campaigners and before long the issue was sealed, early in the 43rd over, with Anwar promptly dispatching a delivery to the extra cover boundary.
The Kiwis must have felt desolate. They had not done too bad a job of setting a target, with Mathew Sinclair working his way to a magnificent hundred. But that in the end was not enough for his side. All said and done New Zealand did gain valuable experience for several of their young players have not been exposed to international cricket outside New Zealand.