A clinical Pakistan maintained their perfect Twenty20 record against an injury-ravaged New Zealand by strolling to a 49-run victory. Imran Nazir smashed his first half-century in limited-overs since returning from the ICL and some swinging from the lower order pushed the target to a tough 162. The spin pair of Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal had confounded New Zealand's batsmen in the one-dayers, but the match was settled even before they came into the attack today.
Against the Twenty20 world champions, New Zealand's chances were slim, given the long list of unfit players. The biggest blow was the loss of captain Daniel Vettori to a head injury picked up during the one-dayers; the list also included James Franklin and fast bowler Kyle Mills. Key allrounder Jacob Oram had also rushed back home, on paternity leave. New Zealand were actually forced to bring on a half-fit Franklin as a substitute when Aaron Redmond (who didn't come out to bat) picked up a groin strain while bowling.
The difference between the two teams was the top-order batting. The worms couldn't have looked more different after two overs: Pakistan were 3 for 0, New Zealand were 29 for 1. After seven, it read: Pakistan 53 for 1, New Zealand 44 for 4. Pakistan kept their wickets intact till the 12th over, which enabled them to overcome a middle-order collapse and keep the runs flowing. New Zealand, on the other hand, lost four quick wickets, leaving the lower order to flail against the spinners.
The early overs of the chase also showcased the outstanding temperament of Mohammad Aamer. He was taken for 17 in the first over - four runs to overthrows, four off an inside edge, four more to a poor piece of fielding from Sohail Tanvir - but came back to take out the dangermen, Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor, in his next two overs. After three overs, Aamer's figures were 3-1-21-2. Abdul Razzaq complemented Aamer's work with two wickets of his own, of Scott Styris and Neil Broom to put Pakistan on track for a sixth straight Twenty20 victory.
New Zealand lacked the sort of effort that Nazir turned in earlier in the evening. After Pakistan were sent in by stand-in captain McCullum, Nazir was the engine in the first half of the innings. He didn't blast the boundaries from the get go, having to survive a testing first over from Shane Bond, who was getting the ball to jag in sharply. Nazir was even content to shoulder arms to a couple of deliveries initially, and it was Kamran Akmal who got the innings going with a couple of boundaries off Bond in the third over.
It was only in the fifth over, when the slightly slower Ian Butler was brought on for Bond, that Nazir switched to Mad-Max mode. He welcomed Butler with a couple of flat-batted sixes off his first two deliveries. Kamran fell in the next over but Nazir was undeterred. Butler watched the ball fly over his head off the first ball of the seventh, his mood worsened two deliveries later when a top-edge flashed over the keeper's head for another four. A high full-toss followed, which Nazir promptly cracked beyond the point boundary; the cheergirls there having an anxious moment as the ball homed in on them.
That had the crowds cheering but the biggest roar came a minute after debutant wicketkeeper BJ Watling pulling off a smart catch off a top-edge to send back Umar Akmal in the eighth over. Afridi walked out. He played a couple of streaky shots early on, but gave his fans something to savour, slamming a slower ball from Scott Styris over long-on. A similar stroke from Nazir two deliveries later brought up his half-century, and Pakistan looked set for a massive score.
McCullum turned to his main man, Bond, for help. He delivered by ending the stand, getting Nazir to slice the ball to third man. McCullum then relied on his part-timer Redmond to get through some quiet overs with his flighted legspinners. Redmond exceeded expectations by dismissing the experienced middle-order pair of Afridi and Shoaib Malik.
Pakistan had lost some of the impetus, but Razzaq showed some of the big-hitting he was famous for several years ago to muscle Pakistan past 160, which proved more than sufficient.
New Zealand have less than a day to regroup and find XI fit players before the second Twenty20 on Friday.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo