Dunedin, January 13 (KMW): They might be the current Champions Trophy holders, but over the last two years, Pakistan have conceded the highest score in the format’s history – 444 at Edgbaston. Today, in Dunedin, they came perilously close to posting the lowest ODI score; it was very much on the cards when they reeled at 32 for 8. In a batting performance so listless that even New Zealand appeared to be embarrassed by the ease with which Pakistan’s innings crumbled, the home side rubberstamped their superiority by bowling Pakistan out for 74, winning by a mammoth 183 runs.
Any semblance of a contest was blown to pieces by a sensational opening spell from Trent Boult, who made a mockery of the notion that it was a slow pitch on which bounce was difficult to extract. Azhar Ali was the first to fall. Granted a life two balls earlier, when Santner dropped one at cover, Azhar poked at one outside the off stump and gave first slip a straightforward grab.
Fakhar Zaman had been trying to cut Boult for much of an innings that was destined to be ephemeral. He eventually dragged on. With Hafeez then edging a catch to Ross Taylor at first slip, the contest was over, but the potential for humiliation had only just begun.
The records began to tumble; only on three other occasions since 2006 had a side made less than ten runs in the first Powerplay (Pakistan made 9 for 3 today); only once before had Pakistan lost six wickets for fewer than the 16 they managed today.
Suddenly, the lowest-ever ODI total – 35 – began to be threatened, as batsmen came – each appearing as clueless, as amateur as the last – and met the same fate.
Pakistan’s ineptitude could spawn much cricketing literature, but New Zealand’s magnificence is far worthier of attention. After Boult and Southee’s brilliance, the change-up bowlers backed them up, their foot never leaving Pakistan’s throat. There was excellent fielding to run out Babar Azam, whose bat got stuck in the pitch as he attempted to drag it over – an appropriate metaphor for the rut Pakistan have found themselves in since reaching New Zealand shores.
The captain Kane Williamson, whose “ugly” innings of 73 began to look prettier by the minute, also took a splendid catch, diving to his right to hold on with one hand. Sarfraz, who was forlornly going down with his ship, remained till the bitter end, watching as his partners came and went. Mohammad Amir flashed at a few deliveries, but the defeat was too chastening for any Pakistan fan to draw entertainment out of it.
The contest ended in the only way that was appropriate, Boult returning to clean up Hasan Ali with an excellent yorker to complete his five-wicket haul. It put Pakistan out of their misery, and gave New Zealand the series with two games remaining.
At the start of the game, the pitch had played far slower than most expected. In scrappy, turgid conditions for batting, New Zealand’s batsmen showed patience and temperament, stringing together several excellent partnerships to put up 257.
Colin Munro and Martin Guptill began like they usually do, each striking a six within the first eight balls. But it soon became evident that that strategy wouldn’t be sustainable.
Munro fell in the second over, having misjudged the pace and bounce of a delivery, lobbing it straight up to Sarfraz.
That brought Williamson and Guptill together, and the run rate came steadily down. It was a difficult surface to get one’s eye in, and the two batsmen rotated the strike instead of taking risks, aware of the importance of kicking on from a start. Williamson occasionally used his feet to the fast bowlers – with some success – but timing proved elusive for both batsmen, and the innings was becoming a grind.
When Taylor came in after Guptill’s run out, he found it far easier to settle in. He was able to manoeuvre the gaps more effectively than any other batsman, two early boundaries through the covers off Shadab Khan setting the tone of the partnership.
Given the nature of the surface, Pakistan unsurprisingly turned to Shoaib Malik to get through some overs. While he didn’t bowl poorly, it meant Pakistan were somewhat anodyne through the middle overs, not looking for wickets as much as they might have done. Williamson survived an lbw shout that was overturned after review, but besides that, New Zealand picked up the scoring rate, with the captain looking much more assured after passing a gritty half-century.
Pakistan were beginning to look desperate for a wicket, and it arrived two balls after the drinks break. Williamson came down the wicket in an attempt to clear mid-off against Raees’ bowling, but didn’t quite find the timing, and Hafeez held on to peg New Zealand back.
Taylor and Tom Latham built another intelligent partnership, but two in two balls from Shadab triggered a New Zealand collapse that restricted their final total. Taylor was the first to go, uncharacteristically missing a straight, short one from Shadab, and Nicholls was dismissed off a golden duck thanks to a stunning catch by Shadab – not for the first time this series.
From that point on, Pakistan’s fast bowlers smelled blood. No one from the lower order was allowed to settle, and a clever mix of length and pace kept the batsmen regularly off-balance. Santner, Astle and Southee could make no real impression, and only a final over rearguard from Boult took his side past 250. That might have felt slightly below par a few hours ago. But the manner of Pakistan’s reply rendered any such notions comically redundant.