Pakistan's World Cup preparations only got better as their youngest batsman scored a maiden ODI century to set up a series win - their first in a bilateral rubber since November 2008 - over New Zealand, whose fortunes continued to slide at home after a miserable time in the subcontinent.
Ahmed Shehzad batted with utmost confidence during his calculated assault, overcoming a cautious start in overcast conditions by launching a counter-attack that snatched the initiative New Zealand had worked hard to gain at the beginning of the game. He was backed up by a determined performance from Pakistan's bowlers, who stepped up in areas where New Zealand had erred, and completed the job quite comfortably in the end.
A miserly first spell by Kyle Mills appeared to have justified Ross Taylor's decision to bowl, as it cramped the usually fluent openers through nagging lines outside off stump and crafty variations in pace. He conceded just two runs in his first four overs, and grabbed the wicket of Mohammad Hafeez.
Shehzad, though, was intent on pulling things back. He had warmed up with a crisp straight drive off Hamish Bennett but opened his shoulders to release the pressure created by the early wicket. Mills' tight lines were countered with a mow past mid-off and an agricultural slog over midwicket, catching the bowler off guard and marking a turn in the tide. Shehzad had won the psychological battle when Mills strayed onto the pads the next over, to be glanced to the fine-leg boundary.
A feature of Shehzad's knock was his domination of Bennett, which offset any pressure New Zealand were able to inflict with the fall of a wicket. Bennett overpitched too often, or dropped too short, and was picked off consistently for boundaries. He squandered some hard work by conceding fours off the last balls of his first two overs and was struck for consecutive boundaries by an initially rusty Kamran Akmal before Shehzad singled him out for treatment. He was launched for a straight six and welcomed in his second spell with a violent pull over the midwicket boundary followed by a clean strike over long-on.
While Shehzad took timely risks and had the power and ability to back them up, he was ruthless against the opportunities doled out by the bowlers when Pakistan had been forced to shift gears in the middle overs. The run-out of Kamran resulted in four boundary-less overs before Nathan McCullum, otherwise quite tidy, gifted a short and wide delivery that Shehzad slashed through point. Scott Styris met a similar fate while James Franklin was a victim of Shehzad's subtleties as he was twice scooped over fine leg.
The constant throughout Shehzad's innings, only his seventh in this format, was his assuredness and determination to keep the hosts worried at one end. When he fell, miscuing Styris to deep square leg, with plenty of ammunition left in the batting, New Zealand were staring at an intimidating target. The bowlers, however, hit back to restrict Pakistan in the death overs. Only once had a team lost chasing at Seddon Park since 2002 but with New Zealand's recent ODI record in a shambles, Pakistan needn't have worried about past results at the venue.
The start to the chase could not have been worse for the hosts as Jesse Ryder backed up too far and was run out without facing a ball. Unlike New Zealand's bowlers who had provided ample scoring opportunities to ease the pressure on Pakistan after each dismissal, Pakistan's fast bowlers hardly ever overpitched, bowled consistently in the channel outside off and dried up the runs.
Martin Guptill faced the pressure with a combination of bravado and opportunism. He dealt harshly with deliveries bowled wide or pitched up on middle - there weren't too many of them - and improvised to clear the infield. Guptill ensured a steady flow of singles, ran well between the wickets as the field spread out and continued to be ruthless when freebies came his way. But having survived a close lbw shout early in his innings, Guptill failed to take full toll, as a short delivery from Shoaib came on a touch too quickly and he holed out to deep square leg.
The onus was on Ross Taylor, who took his time to settle in and overcome the nervy start that has plagued him this series. He appeared to be getting back to his groove when just a firm push off Afridi raced to the extra-cover boundary and, in the company of Guptill, to whom he had ceded floor, kept his team in the hunt. It was in the attempt to rebuild after Guptill's fall that New Zealand lost it. Afridi and Hafeez got through their overs quickly, produced a spate of dot balls and deprived the hosts of a boundary for 11 straight overs. The resultant frustration from New Zealand yielded wickets for Pakistan, as Brendon McCullum got a leading edge to long-on while Styris was run out by a direct hit from Younis Khan.
Taylor fought on, managing a six off his favoured slog-sweep and began the batting Powerplay in the 41st over with a lofted drive against Wahab Riaz. Despite the field restrictions and with five wickets in hand, an asking rate of almost nine an over was going to be difficult to measure up to. In the next over he stepped across to sweep Afridi, only to miss and be trapped in front. And when James Franklin was cleaned up by a Riaz yorker, the depth in the New Zealand batting proved insufficient to secure the remaining runs or salvage some pride after 13 defeats in their last 14 completed games.