Fiery Shoaib strikes terror in Kiwi hearts

KARACHI, April 21: Shoaib Akhtar inflicted a further psychological blow to injury-stricken New Zealand with a career-best performance that guided Pakistan to a crushing 153-run victory in the first One-day International at National Stadium Sunday.

Shoaib's magnificent performance, that saw him finish with six for 16, virtually overshadowed a marvellous century by Yousuf Youhana who struck 125 - his sixth century in 101 matches - to lift Pakistan from 49 for three to an imposing 275 for six.

New Zealand, who were without skipper Stephen Fleming. Arriving in the country without four frontline players, the Kiwis were blown away for 122 in 30 overs.

Shoaib was simply unplayable on a good batting track and in front of a full house. He regularly bowled at a blistering pace which the New Zealand batsmen failed to cope with. Such was the fear of Shoaib, that the lower middle-order batsmen virtually stepped down the track in an effort to save themselves from being hit.

They managed to protect their well guarded bodies, but failed to save the furniture behind them as the stumps were sent cartwheeling at regular intervals.

Shoaib looked focussed and immediately stamped his authority on the hapless New Zealanders by claiming the prized scalp of stand-in captain Craig McMillan who holed out to Saqlain Mushtaq at mid-on while trying an attempted hook shot. It was Shoaib's 100th wicket in 60th match.

From then on, there was no stopping Shoaib and with the crowd cheering him on, it looked he would pick a wicket off every delivery.

It was pleasing to see Shoaib bowl at such a frightening pace, particularly after what he had gone through in recent times.

New Zealand, chasing a decent score, were off to a flying start when Nathan Astle and Matthew Horne put on 53 inside the first 10 overs. Astle looked like regaining his form, which served him so well against England recently, with some exquisite strokes. But as it looked that the Karachi crowd will be entertained by his free stroking ability, Waqar Younis outfoxed him with a change of pace to bowl him. In the following over, Wasim Akram restricted Lou Vincent's outing to just five balls by pinning him in front of the stumps.

Horne's brief innings ended on a tragic note when McMillan failed to respond to his call. It was then when Shoaib got his act together and virtually toyed with the inexperienced New Zealand batting.

Earlier in the day, Youhana stroked a typically gutsy century to pull Pakistan out of trouble. Youhana and Younis Khan put on 161 off 192 balls for the fourth wicket that allowed Abdul Razzaq to play a little cameo knock later. Razzaq clobbered a boundary and two sixes in his 18-ball 30 as Pakistan collected 92 off the last 10 overs.

Youhana, fresh from his match-winning century in the Sharjah Cup final last week, continued with his excellent form with another superb innings after Pakistan had lost three for 49.

Youhana, who needed Imran Nazir as runner to complete his century, scored his runs off 155 balls with the aid of 14 boundaries and a six.

Younis Khan concentrated on nudges and pushes but punished anything loose to the boundary. His 81-ball 69 included three boundaries and a six, carved over point just before he was out.

Younis and Youhana had pulled Pakistan out of deep waters after Shahid Afridi, Imran Nazir and Inzamam-ul-Haq had returned to the dressing room, falling to poor shots. Afridi holed out to McMillan at mid-off while Imran and Inzamam were caught at deep square-leg while hooking.

Pakistan's innings was halted for 19 minutes when a missile thrown from the Intikhab Alam enclosure hit Andre Adams. McMillan brought the team back but led his men into the field after local hero Rashid Latif pleaded with the spectators to calm down. Rashid's words turned out to be magic as there was no further trouble.

But the stupidity of one man certainly left a bad taste in the mouth, particularly after New Zealand is the first international team to visit Pakistan for a full tour following Sept 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The crowd needs to show a lot of discipline and character in the forthcoming matches as their one act of madness can force Australia to cancel their tour in October.