It seems Pakistan are not short of Achilles heels lately. New Zealand aimed an arrow at a rather famous one - their batting while chasing big totals - and came away the victors to become the first team to qualify for the 2016 World T20 semi-finals.
Pakistan, who knew their hopes of staying alive in the World T20 depended heavily on a favourable outcome tonight, looked a chase of 181 in the eye and blinked. Sharjeel Khan's enterprising cameo had set them up. He himself had struck ten boundaries before the Powerplay was done and Pakistan's fifty was raised in 24 balls - their fastest in T20Is.
However, once New Zealand doused Sharjeel's fire, Pakistan's went out as well. The batsmen down the order could not back up the early flurry and will face critique for being poor chasers. There were no boundaries - not one - in the last five overs, which led to the 18th failed chase of a 150-plus target for Pakistan. It left their hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals extremely bleak.
New Zealand had done their homework again - underneath a cover of grass lay a belter of a pitch and Martin Guptill began taking advantage of it as soon as he strode out to bat. The seventh ball he faced, from the seven-foot tall Mohammad Irfan, was lofted toweringly high into the air and became the first of six of the night. That shot, and his entire innings - 80 off 48 balls - was simple in design and an exhibition of a batsman well aware of his strengths.
Guptill is a tall man. His reach is longer than most players and he is not short of power either. So the moment he decides to hit straight, he has the upper hand. He secured 32 of his runs in the arc between long-off and long-on, including two of his 10 fours and all three of his sixes. Guptill had a clear strategy against spin too. The sweep shot, and on a pitch that wasn't turning excessively, it helped him dominate even when he misread the delivery off the bowler's hand. Guptill played two of those against Afridi soon after reaching his fifth T20I fifty over his last 10 innings.
Sharjeel came out and played an innings equal of Guptill's, at least in impact. His strength appears to be in the midwicket region and New Zealand's bowlers fed him a delicious diet of length and short balls. They attempted to pull the pace off, bowled over and around the wicket and changed their fields but very few thought of changing the line and probing him in the corridor around the off stump. Mitchell McClengaghan was smacked for three fours and a six in the fourth over and was taken off. The new bowler Adam Milne dismissed Sharjeel with wider, fuller delivery that was met with a slog and ended up as a top-edge to point.
That wicket gave New Zealand some breathing room. It allowed their spinners to get into the game without fear of being hit out. Mitchell Santner, who bowled the first over and was smashed for 15 runs, finished his full quota with two wickets and gave away only 14 further runs. His partner Ish Sodhi, who was back in Punjab, the state of his birth, conceded only one boundary in his four overs and took the crucial wicket of Afridi as well.
The back-end squeeze was fruitful for both teams. At one point New Zealand looked set for over 200. Mohammad Sami was the key man for Pakistan, his 19th over went only for four runs and he finished his spell with two wickets and an economy rate of 5.75.
But Ross Taylor withstood that spell and led a scrappy lower-order effort to muster 53 runs in the last five overs and that Pakistan could not find a contribution like that became their undoing. Umar Akmal played a woeful innings at No. 4 - 24 off 26 balls, with no fours or sixes. Ahmed Shehzad was similarly subdued - he scratched around for 30 off 32 balls. Afridi attempted to make up for it, but he was caught on the long-off boundary by Corey Anderson, who timed his leap to perfection. New Zealand's strangle at one end had defused a big threat at the other, and they kept squeezing until Pakistan had nothing left.