New Zealand put up 173 on the board thanks to Conway’s fifty, but it wasn’t enough
Pakistan 177 for 6 (Rizwan 89, Southee 2-25) beat New Zealand 173 for 7 (Conway 63, Ashraf 3-20) by four wickets,
Pakistan really rate Mohammad Rizwan. Their followers might continue to doubt him. But the team itself is firmly behind the wicket keeper-batsman. And that belief is a powerful thing. It lifts people and makes them do extraordinary things.
That was the case in Napier, where Rizwan led his team to one of their best ever wins in T20Is. His 89 off 59 was the centrepiece of Pakistan’s fourth-highest chase in the shortest format.
New Zealand did well to get a strong total on the board thanks to Devon Conway’s half-century at the back end of the innings and as hard as they tried to defend it, the dew that came down in the evening, along with a hamstring injury to Ish Sodhi, were odds too great to overcome.
The change bowler
Faheem Ashraf started his spell with a lot of wobble seam deliveries. Mostly because he was bowling at a time when the pitch offered grip to virtually every kind of change-up delivery. This is what has been missing from Pakistan’s game all series. The ability to read the conditions early and adapting to them quickly.
The allrounder’s impact was immediate. He took out captain Kane Williamson with a back of a length ball that kept a touch low and didn’t come onto the bat. Then he produced a flash of genius when he went through the in-form Tim Seifert with a ball that decked in off the pitch and took out the top of off stump.
New Zealand had made a strong start – 47 for 2 at the end of the powerplay – but Ashraf dragged them back beautifully.
The Con man
New Zealand found themselves having to re-start their innings all over again. But they suffered a serious blow in the 15th over when they lost Glenn Phillips – once again the slower ball doing the trick. The score was 109. There were only 35 balls remaining. Time was running out.
Being out there batting in a situation like that can feel suffocating. But Conway, playing only his sixth international game, stepped up in a way that suggests he will be a long-time presence in this team.
He is electric through the off side, as Shaheen Afridi found out immediately after taking that Phillips wicket. Two scorching cover drives kickstarted New Zealand’s push in the slog overs. And it also featured an effortless flick for six off the extreme pace of Haris Rauf.
Conway does seem vulnerable at the start of his innings – as most batsmen do – but once he’s through that tough period he really knows how to make it count. Because of him, New Zealand hit 64 runs in the last 5.5 overs.
It began in discomfort. Trent Boult’s inswingers buzzed around his pads. Tim Southee very nearly had him bowled. The new ball under lights was doing some tricky things.
But Rizwan, having made starts and thrown it away in both previous matches of this series, was determined not to make the same mistake again. He was also helped by a two-paced pitch turning into a batting beauty thanks to the dew.
Still, some of his strokeplay was hair-raising good. Any time the New Zealand bowlers strayed even slightly on his pads, he was ready with a range of shots. The scoop over fine leg. The flick over square leg. The pull over midwicket. He got 70 of his 89 runs on the leg side.
Rizwan controlled the chase from start to finish and though his wicket in the last over did create a little excitement, Pakistan needed only three further runs to win and those were struck in emphatic fashion as Iftikhar Ahmed calmly sent the ball into orbit above McLean Park.