New Zealand 156 for 5 (Seifert 57, Chapman 34, Rauf 3-29, Afridi 2-27) beat Pakistan 153 for 9 (Shadab 42, Faheem 31, Duffy 4-33, Kuggeleijn 3-27) by five wickets
Bounce, baby! Bounce! There was a fast-bowling feast at Eden Park. And the batsmen were just not welcome.
A rash of mis-hits, screams of annoyance and a flood of wickets suggested Pakistan could not cope with the conditions, where hitting back of a length not only made balls rear up at them, they did so at varying speeds.
Babar Azam, who was at the ground, would have given a firm (broken) thumbs down as he watched his team struggle without him, slipping to 39 for 5. That couldn’t have been the score stand-in captain Shadab Khan was looking for when he won the toss. But things did improve in the back end of the innings, to such an extent that Pakistan made 102 runs in the last nine overs. That gave their bowlers a total of 153 and they made it look pretty big at the start of the New Zealand chase.
Tim Seifert, though, rode the pressure put on him and the rest of his team by a quality attack that was pumped all the way up and produced a half-century that was just about enough to clinch a very tight T20I game.
The debutant’s ball
Jacob Duffy had to wait eight years to make it to international cricket and when he did on Friday night, he picked up a wicket with his second ball. That was the first sign that this wasn’t an Eden Park belter. It stopped on the batsman. It kicked up off the surface. It hit high on his bat. And a flick shot, intended to go along the ground through midwicket, ended up a catch at mid-on.
Duffy finished with 4 for 33, the best figures by a Black Cap on debut, and the Player-of-the-Match award, which was all a lovely bonus considering all he wanted was “not to get knocked out of the park too often”.
His night could have been even more spectacular but for a stray little finger. In the tenth over, while fielding at deep third man, he ran full tilt to his right and leapt up to intervene with an upper cut from Khan that looked destined for six. The ball stuck in his outstretched right hand, but as he came down, protecting it from touching the ground, just a tiny bit of his other hand – his left hand – brushed against the advertising triangles and ruined what might have been one of the great boundary catches of all time.
The captain’s knock
Khan was 9 off 13 at that point. He too was hopping around thanks to the extra bounce on offer, but his shot selection was considerably better than those that had come and gone before him.
On a pitch where occasionally the ball didn’t come on to the bat, the flick shot is loaded with danger. Abdullah Shafique and Haider Ali found that out in the worst way. Cross-bat shots are much more useful, but for that, you have to stay in long enough to adjust to the bounce on offer. Mohammad Hafeez didn’t and fell so tamely.
But from the ruins of 39 for 5, Khan (42 off 32) and later Faheem Ashraf (31 off 18) counterpunched their way to a total that looked rather unimaginable just a few overs previously. A total that they could defend.
Khan took centre stage again when he produced a ripping catch to dismiss Martin Guptill early and send his bowlers into a state of wicket lust.
Haris Rauf was stricken with it. He had a pitch he could turn into his own personal playground. And anyone who entered it, had to deal with nearly 150kph rockets that – once again – were bouncing awkwardly. He took a wicket with his second ball. Devon Conway gone. He then came back to break the most threatening partnership of the New Zealand chase. Glenn Phillips gone. And in the slog, after watching Ashraf put down a simple catch with the equation reading 35 off 27, he knocked over the batsman that benefited from that piece of poor fielding. Mark Chapman gone.
Seifert’s greatest trick
New Zealand’s wicketkeeper has so many funky shots that sometimes he feels obliged to play them. Sometimes they go for four. Other times it’s he who goes back to the pavilion.
At Eden Park, he concentrated on playing within himself. So much so he produced two of the shots of the game: a straight drive that was nothing more than an extension of defence, and an extra cover drive that kept gaining speed as it travelled to the boundary. Restraint is often the key to success and Seifert found that out just in time to save his team.
His dismissal with 44 runs needed off 32 balls put the game back in the balance, but New Zealand have worked on their chasing. Gary Stead has been very particular about it; demanding his players not succumb to pressure and instead, break the runs down into blocks and tick them off. Chapman took that advice to heart. So did Jimmy Neesham and the captain Mitchell Santner as well, who finished the game off with an emphatic six.
As good as that must feel, the Pakistan side they beat was a rusty one. Khan even admitted that at the presentation. But they got better as the game went on and given the way they fought, this is going to be one great series.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo