New Zealand 163 for 5 (Latham 64, Mitchell 33, Rauf 2-31) beat Pakistan 159 (Iftikhar 60, Neesham 3-38, Ravindra 2-28) by four runs
His 60 off 24 balls came when Pakistan were staring down the barrel of near-certain defeat, bringing Pakistan to the brink of a heist for the ages. But Jimmy Neesham held his nerve as Iftikhar holed out with three balls to go, and a victory that should have been New Zealand’s an hour earlier was finally made official.
Latham digs in
For much of the first half of the first innings, there was little to suggest that Latham’s innings would be anything but a match-losing one. By the end of the powerplay, he had scratched his way to 19 off 21 deliveries. Later, he wasn’t faring much better against the spin of Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan either; by the end of the 11th, he managed only 34 off 32, with his side hovering just above six an over.
But Latham would finally crank through the gears, and Imad and Shadab felt the full force of it. A club down the ground off Imad in the 12th over for four set the tone, and suddenly, the shackles came off. Lovely footwork saw him deposit one into the stands before the over was out, while worse was to follow for Shadab.
Daryll Mitchell plundered him for 16 in the next over before Latham ramped Shaheen Afridi for six to start the 16th over, and slapped Rauf away for another boundary next over. New Zealand were suddenly flying, and though Latham fell to Rauf off the next legal delivery, the innings of 64 from 49 balls won him a Player of the Match award that did not seem likely for the New Zealand captain at the halfway mark.
Milne’s mixed bag, Henry’s heroics
Adam Milne has had rotten luck with injuries throughout his career. A packed schedule and his extreme pace do not necessarily go together, and so while he was among New Zealand’s most effective bowlers in the first T20I on Friday, prudence demanded he be rested the following day.
Thus, Milne, well-rested over the weekend, showed the kind of menace and ability he has to pose a threat to any opposition. After a first over where pace and swing were produced in equal measure, Babar Azam hung his bat out at a slightly wider one, the sideways movement drawing the outer edge that produced a wicket.
With Matt Henry at the other end equally effective at stifling the batters, another wicket followed, as reckless running and sharp fielding saw Mohammad Rizwan’s demise. By the end of the powerplay, Pakistan had scored just 35, and were two down.
New Zealand’s two frontline bowlers would continue to have an outsized influence on Pakistan’s chase. Milne returned to prise Shadab out off his first ball back into the attack to start the 15th over, leaving Pakistan reeling at 88 for 7. But the two wouldn’t have it all their own way, because even with another 76 required for victory from only 35 balls and three wickets remaining, Pakistan were about to turn this game on its head.
Iftikhar, Faheem hit back
Pakistan had sunk into the abyss, but almost as if a passing ship had thrown them life jacket, Iftikhar and Faheem began to raise them back up once more. It all started when Pakistan needed 72 from the last five overs, and Neesham was brought back for his third over. Those were the first signs of life from an Iftikhar who was beginning to find his place in the side under scrutiny: a bludgeoned six over wide long-on – his trademark shot – had been preceded by a four, and followed up with another by Faheem.
A generally-subdued Gaddafi crowd continued to cling to hope, and the exit gates, heaving just moments earlier, began to see traffic reverse back in. But with another 46 required off the last 18 deliveries, it was Milne’s final over that truly threatened to snatch the game away from the visitors. A combination of missed lengths and a batting pair who found themselves in the zone saw 23 runs scored, including three massive sixes.
But Henry, by far New Zealand’s standout bowler on the day, had his say once more. Unfazed by Faheem slapping away over midwicket for six more to get the equation down to 15 from ten balls, Henry attempted a yorker, as Faheem struggled to get underneath it, and holed out to Mitchell at long-on. Suddenly, with eight wickets down, Iftikhar needed to farm the strike, which he got only after No. 10 Naseem Shah saw off three dots in a row to end the 19th over, during which Iftikhar got to his fifty from only 20 deliveries.
It looked as if the hapless Neesham would face the brunt of Iftikhar’s brutality once more, especially when a six and a four reduced the target to five off three deliveries. But Neesham has faced pressure before; this, after all is the man who New Zealand sent out to face the Super Over in a World Cup final. He went full once more, and when Iftikhar miscued his shot slightly, Mitchell was there at long-on to cling on again.
It was down to five to win from two balls, with last man Rauf on strike. Rauf was first deceived with a short delivery, and then, with nothing to lose, he tried to heave the final ball over cow corner. It was immediately clear from Mitchell’s reaction that it wasn’t big enough. He began to celebrate while Chad Bowes, at deep midwicket, completed the catch, thus capping off a remarkable evening and ensuring New Zealand’s mathematical interest in this series continued.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000