It was a typically New Zealand performance: No fuss, no heroes, no unnecessary excitement. The Kiwis brought their no-nonsense game to the fore and negotiated a mini collapse to edge past Pakistan by five wickets and set up a trans-Tasman final in the Champions Trophy.
When Pakistan were kept down to 233 on a good surface, the game was there for New Zealand to take. But, like we’ve seen so often in the past, the brittle top order slipped up, only to be bailed out by a late rally from Grant Elliott and Daniel Vettori.
Brendon McCullum, attempting to take his team to a fiery start, mis-hit a pull and was well caught by Shahid Afridi back pedalling at midwicket. Martin Guptill showed signs of form but he too fell to the pull, playing the shot to the first ball he faced from Umar Gul and lobbing a simple catch. Aaron Redmond failed to read a doora from Saeed Ajmal, who accepted the return catch with glee.
While Ross Taylor steadied the nerves for a time with a 61-ball 38, he misread a quicker ball from Afridi and was bowled. When Taylor fell, New Zealand were 126 for 4 and still needed more than a 100 for victory. Elliott steadfastly refused to hit the panic button, scoring at a painfully slow rate, just about staying in striking distance of the net run rate. Vettori (41) too chose his strokes carefully, only changing gears when he took the batting powerplay in the 43rd over. Elliott (75 not out) unfurled a late flourish, striking Gul for two fours and a six in the 46th over, sealing the game.
Pakistan’s quest to book a place in the final began well, with Younis Khan winning the toss. But when the openers fell after confused knocks and both Shoaib Malik and Younis Khan failed, Pakistan were in deep strife at 86 for 4. What they needed was someone who could stem the rot and then rebuild the innings. What they got instead was Mohammad Yousuf in a sulk. While his reticence to push the pace was understandable, the manner in which he refused to look for singles even, was mystifying.
Having created a base — 45 off 78 balls — Yousuf threw it away, dragging Kyle Mills back onto his stumps attempting a glide to third-man.
Fortunately for Pakistan Umar Akmal played a refreshingly good hand, working the singles and stealing boundaries to reach 55 when he was adjudged lbw after playing the ball onto his pad.
Shahid Afridi breezed in and out, Pakistan were in danger of imploding at 183 for 7. Had it not been for some lusty hitting from Mohammad Aamer even Pakistan’s eventual 233 would never have been achieved.
Pakistan: Nazir c Taylor b Bond 28, K Akmalc Redmond b Butler 24, Malik c Taylor b Butler 2, Younis c Taylor b Vettori 15, Yousuf b Mills 45, U Akmal lbw b Vettori 55, Afridi c McCullum b Butler 4, Hasan c Guptill b Vettori 8, Gul c Broom b Butler 6, Aamer not out 19, Ajmal not out 14.
Extras (lb-6, w-5, nb-2) 13.
Total (for 9 wkts) 233
FoW: 1-46, 2-61, 3-69, 4-86, 5-166, 6-181, 7-183, 8-192, 9-198.
Bowling: Mills 10-0-46-1, Bond 10-1-54-1, Butler 10-0-44-4, Franklin 8-0-33-0, Vettori 10-2-43-3, Elliott 2-0-7-0.
New Zealand: McCullumc Afridi b Aamer 17, Redmond c & b Saeed Ajmal 31, Guptill c Naved-ul-Hasan b Gul 11, Taylor b Afridi 38, Elliott not out 75, Vettori c Akmal b Ajmal 41, Broom not out 3.
Extras: (b-2, lb-6, w-6, nb-4) 18.
Total: (for 5 wkts in 47.5 ovs) 234.
FoW: 1-22, 2-43, 3-71, 4-126, 5-230.
Bowling: Aamer 10-2-32-1, Naved-ul-Hasan 8-0-57-0, Gul 8.5-0-48-1, Ajmal 8-0-39-2, Afridi 10-0-41-1, Malik 3-0-9 -0.