In this World Cup, captains who won the toss have decided to chase, 78% of the times to be precise. Kane Williamson was one among them, backed by his bowlers New Zealand were able to defend every total they put up on the board. Edgbaston was a used wicket so his decision to bowl first was justifiable.
It was just a usual day in the office for New Zealand. Pakistan opted to go with Mohammad Hafeez given Munro’s propensity to struggle against spin. Guptill took strike, played a perfect sweep for a boundary to open the innings.
The next over, Mohammad Amir planted his first ball outside off stump, a drivable length, Guptill went for it and chopped on. Four overs later, Munro edged a rising ball off Shaheen Afridi to Haris Sohail at first slip. New Zealand were back against the wall and needed another valuable partnership from their talisman, captain Kane and Ross Taylor but Afridi had other ideas.
Taylor nicked a ball that left him and the rest was done by Sarfaraz Ahmed who took a sharp catch behind the stumps. Tom Latham followed Taylor to the pavilion when he snicked a back of length delivery that was just moving away from him.
James Neesham joined Williamson at the crease, he wasn’t tested all the while in the tournament. The ball hit his inside and outside edges but still he showed great determination to stay with his skipper and rebuild the innings which were in tatters by then.
It required a special delivery to remove Kane Williamson and it was delivered by leggie, Shadab Khan. A perfect leg break that forced Kane to slant forward just to find a feather which was comfortably grasped by Sarfaraz. Not only the crowd but the players erupted with joy as Pakistan thought he was the final nail in the coffin.
27 overs were already consumed by the Kiwis with a sorry scorecard reading 87/5. New Zealand were looking down the barrel and required inspiration from somewhere. The incoming Colin de Grandhomme was certainly capable and showed glimpses when he scored a half- century under pressure against South Africa.
Colin de Grandhomme and Neesham slowly but steadily started to build a partnership that looked promising. Milking ones and twos with an odd boundary the partnership reached 50 and then both of them stepped on the paddle. Colin took the onus on him to increase the run rate while Neesham was playing a calm innings, a perfect anchor’s role. New Zealand reached 150 in 39 overs and with 11 overs to spare they were set for a respectable total.
New Zealand mustered 85 of the last ten. The credit goes to Mohammad Amir. He faltered badly at the death giving freebies by bowling either short or at the pads of the batsmen. Wahab Riaz too looked out of touch. Shaheen was the only stand out bowler with his match figures of 3/28. Meanwhile both the all-rounders completed their respective half centuries. The partnership went on to 100 and beyond...
Although de Grandhomme was run out for 64, the Southpaw showed his hitting prowess and took Amir for 18 in the 47th over. Neesham rightfully ended the innings with a six but was left stranded on 97, his highest ODI score. New Zealand finished with 237 on board.
237 was never going to be a cakewalk not because of Pakistan’s poor record when it comes to chases but the Kiwi outfit have some brilliant fielders, so add another 20 runs to the total.
Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman started on a positive note smashing four boundaries inside two overs but Fakhar’s rush of blood led to his downfall; the ball was there to be flicked but he closed the bat face too early eventually managing to top-edge the ball to Guptill.
Imam though looked in good nick timing the ball sweetly like honey. But Lockie Ferguson’s pace was too hot to handle for the left-hander; he was in no-man’s land while defending a bouncer directed at his body and the ball lobbed to Guptill who took a superb catch plunging forward.
The required rate was not a problem. The batsmen at the crease, Babar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez just had to apply themselves and play sensibly. They played out the hard yards and then cashed in with a 66-run partnership.
There was enough in the wicket for the spinners and it was evident when Mitchell Santner came to bowl in the 18th over. The ball was turning square; Babar was lucky to escape after Latham couldn’t hold on to an outside edge.
Hafeez scored another 30 before throwing his wicket away to captain Kane. Babar cashed in and stood like a tall pillar. Haris Sohail joined him at the crease and immediately put the opposition on the back foot.
Williamson tried Lockie, Neesham, Boult but none couldn’t provide a breakthrough. Although the required rate was above 6, Pakistan had enough gas in them to take them over the line. In the end New Zealand were short of resources, especially in the spin department. The body language of the fielders said it all. Sohail went on to score another fifty and Babar a match century to take Pakistan over the line.