SHARJAH: After a dismal start, Pakistan bounced back by beating New Zealand quite convincingly, by a margin of 51 runs to bring this Sharjah Cup 2002 on an even keel. Now all three teams have won a match apiece after the conclusion of first round of this double league event.
Not quite relentless, it still was a good all-around professional display, as the Pakistanis batted competently and bowled well, with fielding too not below par. And the result was an emphatic victory that would definitely give their morale some lift as they take on Sri Lanka today (Friday).
Pakistan started the day well. Skipper Waqar Younis won the toss, and the openers Shahid Afridi and Imran Nazir batted with controlled aggression to put nearly a hundred runs on the board. They never let up after this marvelous start, and Inzamam-ul-Haq, Younis Khan and Wasim Akram all made sizable contributions to see Pakistan through to a sizable total of 288.
Chasing a target of 288, with the asking rate as steep as 5.78 from the start, is never easy. Against a formidable attack like that of Pakistan, under the lights, and on a ground where the Pakistanis have played and won more matches than on any single venue at home, it is all the more difficult. The Black Caps, full of spunk despite their captain Stephen Fleming sitting out nursing a finger injury, came out with the intent to conquer, only to see their spirited charge dissipate somewhat when Nathan Astle and Mathew Sinclair were accounted for early on by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis in successive overs.
Chris Nevin and Nathan Astle stroked a four apiece on the leg side off skipper Waqar Younis to take 12 runs off him. Next over, Nevin send Akram soaring over the long-on fence, and another one dozen runs had been gathered off the great southpaw when he struck, Astle failing to stay out of the harm's way on the fast outswinger and Rashid Latif brought off a spectacular catch. Next over Younis got through Sinclair's defences, played on, to make Black Caps 34 for 2.
Neither the two quick wickets, nor some rough treatment at Waqar's hands could curb Nevin's aggressive instincts. With Craig McMillan giving him company, he kept going after the bowling, clubbing Akram to extra cover for four, and two overs later miscuing him over the keeper for another boundary to raise New Zealand?s 50, off 62 deliveries.
Shoaib Akhtar came into the attack, banged one short and wide on the leg side, and Nevin helped it all the way to the fine leg fence. Another widish delivery outside the off-stump, and Nevin tried to loft it over long-off, only holing out to a grateful Waqar. Akhtar had struck on the last delivery of not so great an over, and the Kiwis were in a spot of bother.
With the two Ws getting a wicket apiece to send back the extremely dangerous Nathan Astle and Mathew Sinclair, and Shoaib Akhtar prising out an adventurous Chris Nevin, Pakistan had made early inroads into the Kiwis batting.
The asking rate, which was an imposing 5.78 to begin with, becoming all the more formidable as the overs went by, the Kiwis still had some hopes to make a fist of it. As long as the stand-in skipper Craig McMillan and that veteran of veterans Chris Harris were on the crease, there was still going to be some fight. The duo put their heads down to put 112 runs on the board off 131 deliveries, but then wickets again fell in a bunch, and at 192 for seven and the asking rate at 9.7 as the last 10 overs remained, the Kiwis didn't have much of a chance. Not with the Pakistani bowlers all keyed up to finish it off.
With the asking rate pegged at exactly seven, Harris tried breaking the shackles, with some success hitting Afridi and Saqlain for a few boundaries. At the end of the 30th over, the Kiwis were halfway through, at exactly 144. They had wickets at hand for the onslaught, and now they went for it. Harris clobbered Afridi for a six over mid-wicket, and next over went past his 50, off 64 deliveries, with 4 fours and a six. McMillan swept Saqlain for a four and a six over square-leg. At this point, Waqar brought himself back into the attack, and as Saqlain sent back McMillan (51, off 68 deliveries, 4 fours, 1 six) and Harris in successive overs, Waqar struck a double blow to get Mathew Horne and Jacob Orum. 7 for 187, it was all over bar the shouting. Scott Styris and James Franklin tried to see out the last 10 overs to save some face, but Shoaib clean bowled the latter in the 48th over.
Earlier, a magnificent stand of 105 for the fifth wicket between Inzamam-ul-Haq and Younis Khan capitalised on a superb start by the openers Shahid Afridi (56, off 53 deliveries, 7 fours, 3 sixes) and Imran Nazir (47, off 46 deliveries, 7 fours) to guide Pakistan to a sizable total of 288 for six wickets. Wasim Akram (unbeaten 26, off 16 balls, 1 four, 1 six) smote McMillan for a straight six and a four off the last two deliveries to bring the innings to an emphatic close.
After a brilliant start, Pakistan lost three wickets in quick succession, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq and Imran Nazir all gone within the space of 17 runs. And then Yousuf Youhana too went cheaply, four down with 146 on the board, all of them falling to Scott Styris' military medium pace.
But Inzamam-ul-Haq, in good form since he made 99 in the second innings of the Asian Test Championship final to give respectability to a lost cause, remained there, solid as a rock, holding the middle order together.
The partnership between Inzamam (68, off 96 deliveries, 4 fours) and Younis Khan (56, 59 balls, 4 fours, 1 six) first steadied the Pakistan innings after a sort of mini-collapse threatened the usual disintegration, and then consolidated on the good work in the later part. By the time Inzamam holed out to Mathew Horne at extra cover, with less than five overs to go, Pakistan had already made 251. Younis followed close on his heels, getting clean bowled behind his legs while trying to sweep Tuffey to long leg, the shot that had brought him his only six against Astle.
But by then Pakistan was well and truly ahead, and Akram and Rashid added 35 runs without losing a wicket till the end.
All in all a good effort, with a solid start and a good finish. The Kiwis had their job cut out for them, and they never looked like overly troubling Pakistan.