With a convincing victory over New Zealand in the 1st One-day international at Auckland, Pakistan was considered to have gained a firm grip over the series. Their hopeless performance in the 2nd encounter, however, frustrated the hopes of a glorious start of the tour. The show at Napier lacked the precision with which Pakistan dismissed the Black Caps for a small total of 149 at the Eden Gardens and achieved the victory target of 150 runs with absolute ease losing only 4 wickets. Such a comprehensive defeat was a shock for the New Zealanders, having already been mauled by Sri Lanka in the last series.
Although it was a remarkable team effort, the victory in the 1st ODI could be safely termed as `Shoaib's triumph' for his magical spell of bowling. His magnificent bowling performance, especially the 2nd spell of 2.3 overs during which he clinched 5 wickets in a span of 11 balls conceding only 4 runs deserved a mention in the record books.
It being Shoaib's first international appearance after a ten-month lay off, he was brought in to bowl at the second change even after Abdur Razzaq. The vital break through already achieved by the two Ws who acted as the spearhead also provided him the advantage. On the advice of his teammates he wisely concentrated on accuracy more than speed. As a result of the superb exhibition of line and length that he maintained, four of his victims were clean bowled while the fifth one was declared LBW. It showed the class of a bowler that Shoaib is, provided he keeps himself physically fit and remains within himself.
The re-emergence of a controversy about his bowling action was, however, unfortunate. While Tony Blain, a former New Zealand wicket keeper and Brian Waddle a high profile commentator on the national radio, continued harping on the tune of `throwing', skipper Stephen Fleming also joined in the fray. The experts feel that Shoaib having been cleared by the ICC, accusing him of chucking again is meant to put the speed icon under pressure along with undermining the strength of the Pakistan team.
The 2nd ODI at Napier fell into the Black Caps pocket when the Pakistan team suffered from their traditional collapse and was dismissed for a small total of 135 runs. Like other walks of life strange things also happen in cricket. It may be a coincidence that the New Zealanders got Saeed Anwar out on the very first ball of the day exactly in the manner Pakistan got Parore out on the first ball at Auckland.
The Black Caps followed it up by returning to Pakistan the gift of a 6 wickets defeat that they received at Auckland. This is exactly what one calls a `sweet revenge'
It is surprising that Pakistan has falsely believed in the myth of batting first to achieve success. At Napier New Zealand won the toss and put Pakistan to bat defeating them fair and square. At Auckland, Pakistan batted second and won. Many other instances of this nature will prove that the real magic and the secret of success lies in performance and not the choice of batting first or second. Such beliefs are more psychological than practical.
Pakistan lost at Napier because its performance was not only miserable but also disappointing. Except for Abdur Razzaq who kept the innings together by playing a splendid knock of 50 and an enterprising 22 by Waqar Younis, no other batsman showed the confidence to hold the crease. The wicket had a little high bounce, which every player of international level is supposed to handle. By punishing the bouncers, the good batsmen even make a big capital out of it. For lack of application, the wickets were literally thrown away. One must, however, give full credit to Tuffey for claiming 4 scalps including those of the opening pair.
A total of 135 being too small to defend and the Auckland's hero Shoaib Akhtar retiring after bowling only 9 balls, Pakistan had no hope in hell to win the match. The pair of quickies Wasim Akram (2 for 24) and Waqar Younis (1 for 27) did bowl their hearts out but were not supported by the fielders. The overall standard of fielding and the field placing being atrocious, the fours went past with the frequency of vehicles passing on a busy road. In such a situation, any team could have achieved the target. The Black Caps did it in 30 overs.
Shoaib Akhtar's awe-inspiring performance at Auckland was thought to have dispelled all doubts and speculations about his physical fitness. His return to the pavilion after bowling even less than two overs, however, shows that he is not yet completely fit to take the strain of a full series. The efforts to groom Imran Farhat as an opener also seem to be failing. A promising youngster at home, Imran has proved a disappointment so far and needs to be handled with care.
The manner in which the Black Caps tore apart Pakistan's batting line and then thwarted the efforts of its bowling arsenal to bundle them out, is a stern warning not to take them easy in any type of a contest. Their trust in themselves and the confidence that they displayed indicates that they have come out of the shock wave of a series defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka. They seem to be ready to face the Pakistan's challenge with full might. The Pakistan batsmen shall have to put their lethargy at rest and the bowlers to be more alert and agile if they want to win the series.