Pakistan 287 for 6 (Imam 90, Babar 54, Henry 3-54) beat New Zealand 261 (Blundell 65, McConchie 62*, Naseem 2-41) by 26 runs
It was an opening New Zealand looked to have shut once more when Daryl Mitchell and Blundell were together, but when the in-form Mitchell holed out off Mohammad Wasim, Pakistan began to grow into the contest. The next four overs saw the runs dry up, and that brought its own pressure as they set off for a second run that wasn’t there, only to find Blundell well short of his ground.
New Zealand’s minds appeared to be scrambled; there were, in truth, many more run-out opportunities there for the taking, and the comfort the top three displayed against Pakistan’s bowlers was never quite there anymore. The fast bowlers raised their game, too; Naseem Shah cleaned up Mark Chapman, beating him for sheer pace and knocking back his off stump. Wasim did the same to Tom Latham as the off-colour captain tried to spoon one over fine leg. Henry Nicholls was soon done away with by Agha, and New Zealand suddenly found themselves 92 away with just four wickets and 52 balls to go.
McConchie ensured Pakistan were kept honest right to the end, though with Shaheen Shah Afridi in his best yorker-hitting form, it always seemed like the game had slipped out of New Zealand’s reach already. The debutant rode his luck when he was dropped early, before some brilliantly clean ball-striking off both pace and spin gave his side a glimmer of hope, bringing up a well-deserved half-century with a glorious six off Afridi. But he was running out of support at the other end, with the left arm fast bowler proving too good for Adam Milne and Ish Sodhi, and a desperation to get back on strike in the final over saw New Zealand’s challenge end, perhaps fittingly, with another run out.
New Zealand finally won a toss, and Latham put Pakistan in. Batting first, Pakistan are often more sedate than during a chase, and New Zealand’s early discipline with the ball amplified that. The first five overs produced just 12 runs on a blazing afternoon in Karachi, and while Fakhar Zaman tried to force the issue thereafter, a Henry short ball got the better of him cheaply.
Babar and Imam have statistically been Pakistan’s most prolific pair in the past four years, and they got together for yet another edition of that today. They accumulated 107 runs for that second wicket, though it was precisely that – accumulation. The sense of urgency most modern teams have through the middle overs was somewhat missing, and while both players coasted to half-centuries, it was telling that Pakistan hadn’t assumed control by the time Henry had Babar drag one back onto his stumps.
Pakistan’s dependence on the top three- and general absence of huge power hitting at the death – meant Imam was crucial to a big finish, but he, too would drag on to his stumps ten shy of a hundred, putting the onus of getting past 300 onto a vulnerable middle order. New Zealand began to pull things back as Abdullah Shafique and Agha Salman fell cheaply, and Milne dismissed Mohammad Rizwan for 31 just when he looked essential to Pakistan’s death overs efforts.
However, it paved the way for Shadab Khan to come in. His quick cameo – an unbeaten 21 off 10 – suggested he’d come in a touch too late. Pakistan might have felt their strategy had seen them leave a few runs out there, but a splendid bowling effort, matched by the quality of the fielding, ensured they ended up depriving New Zealand of even more of them.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000