All-round Afridi leads rout

Pakistan 287 for 9 (Latif 64, Afridi 70, Kamran 67*) beat New Zealand 149 (Redmond 52, Vettori 38, Afridi 2-46) by 138 runs

After pounding 70, Shahid Afridi returned to take two wickets to contribute to Pakistan’s big 138-run win over New Zealand in the first ODI. New Zealand failed to mount a challenge to Pakistan’s 287 and were bowled out within 40 overs.

Full report to follow

25 overs New Zealand 104 for 4 (Redmond 43*, Vettori 22*) need another 184 runs to beat Pakistan 287 for 9 (Latif 64, Afridi 70, Kamran 67*)

Pakistan’s pacemen carried with them the momentum generated by their middle and lower orders in the first innings, working their way through the New Zealand top order at the Sheikh Zayed stadium in Abu Dhabi. Two wickets for Umar Gul and another impressive opening burst from Mohammad Aamer put New Zealand on the back foot, before Aaron Redmond and Daniel Vettori, in one of his many roles, halted the slide, so that at the halfway mark in the chase New Zealand were down, but not entirely out, at 104 for 4.

Gul may have been the main beneficiary in terms of wickets, but he might want to thank Aamer for his reward. Aamer has been, without any doubt, Pakistan’s find of the year and his bowling in all three formats has been remarkably wise. His opening spell was similarly experienced, and it is only his ninth ODI.

At whippy pace, he gnawed away at both Brendon McCullum and Aaron Redmond over after over, regularly beating them for pace and inward movement. Often he shortened the length but mostly he kept at one line and length and neither opener knew much of what was happening. Fortunately for them, brief relief was at hand at the other end, in the shape of Gul, who neither bowled with the pace, nous or verve of his younger partner.

In two overs from Gul, McCullum helped himself to four boundaries, the first – a punched push through covers by far the pick. But as has been the case with McCullum for far too long, the promise never materialised: in the eighth over, he tried pulling Gul, only to inside edge onto his own stumps. Similar success arrived in Gul’s next over, Martin Guptill’s lazy forward defensive helping the ball on to the stumps.

Aamer finally found some reward immediately after though it needed Ross Taylor chasing a ball destined for Dubai. And when Scott Styris found the middle of the bat and the middle of the substitute Imran Farhat’s palms at deep square leg off Abdul Razzaq soon after, Pakistan were threatening to run away with it.

Not for the first time, however, Vettori came out to take charge. As spin replaced pace, Vettori worked the gaps, enabling a hitherto dormant Redmond to make a move as well. A few boundaries, some hard running and a little luck took them to the halfway mark without further blemish, yet still a mountain remains to be climbed.

50 overs Pakistan 287 for 9 (Latif 64, Afridi 70, Kamran 67*) v New Zealand

Shahid Afridi was at the head of a rescue operation of spectacular proportions at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, where much like a magician, he turned a limp and disastrous 75 for 4 into an ominous 287 for 9. Afridi’s innings opened the floodgates for the lower order, in particular Kamran Akmal, who plundered New Zealand relentlessly at the death: in all 137 runs came in the last 15 overs and 206 off the last 25. Whatever advantage New Zealand had, thanks to an outstanding opening spell from Shane Bond, was laid to waste in the haze of boundaries that followed.

There has been much talk in Pakistan about Afridi and his supposed tussle with Younis Khan for the captaincy of Pakistan’s ODI side. To his credit, Afridi hasn’t done much of the talking and has, over the years, let his performances send out the messages. Here he transformed the entire innings and rescued Pakistan like few others are capable of.

It was mature by his own standards, pretty brutal by any other, and the kind of innings Twenty20 has brought out of him. The maturity was in its entirety, in its realization that he need not go helter-skelter from the off and that if his forearms are somehow aligned to his brain then mountains can be moved.

There was no miscue or hoick to begin, just urgent nudges and grunted pushes to revive Pakistan’s comatose run-rate. Once Khalid Latif, drafted in as opener, pulled a boundary for nearly 12 overs in the 29th, he freed not his own, but Afridi’s mind. In the next over, Afridi danced out to heave Daniel Vettori over long-on for six, and then repeated it twice the very next over off Nathan McCullum.

The flurry of boundaries is an Afridi trait, but once out of the way, he reverted to taking well-placed singles and doubles, occasionally launching a boundary. Bond was muscled over long-off for one such, to bring up a 37-ball 50. But having brought up the hundred partnership with Latif a couple of overs later with another boundary, he was gone, contriving a paddle straight to short fine leg.

Latif, like a latter-day Shoaib Mohammad, gave the air a sedateness out of sync with the hectic flip-flop of momentum. He stuck around as wickets fell early and looked for most of it as threatening as a butterfly, without being as pretty. But he stuck around for what should be for him, if not the team, a valuable fifty. And he was at his most effective when Afridi was going for it, simply because he ensured, however he could, that Afridi got much of the strike.

Afridi energised the rest of them. Kamran Akmal, relieved of opening, gleefully looted runs at the death, putting on 86 with Abdul Razzaq in just over seven overs – driving, scything and squeezing a parade of sixes and fours during a 43-ball 67.

From nought for two, as Pakistan were, it was some recovery. Bond, hammered in his second spell, was magnificent in his first. It is a shame he has cut down on pace, only because truly fast bowlers provide cricket with its most visceral passages. But that has allowed his innate intelligence to come through and he was never an unthinking brute with ball in hand to begin with.

Out came all the cunning in an opening five-over spell of refreshingly attacking intent. Each ball he bowled, it seemed, was geared only to take wickets, not save runs. Salman Butt, in three balls, was left as exposed as Marge Simpson in the new Playboy. In his next over, he sensed the edginess in Younis pulling him into a wide drive. No more wickets came in the spell but that is only because cricket’s god is a batsman. The pace was changed, angles shifted and the ball cut a path both ways. Every now and again, just because he could, he showed the batsmen that at 34, with more injuries behind him than even Andrew Flintoff, he could pull out a genuinely quick ball.

The rest of his colleagues chipped in, Tim Southee and Vettori in particular providing tight support. But none accounted for Afridi.

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