|ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, Sharjah|
|New Zealand 134-8 (20 overs): Mitchell 27 (20), Conway 27 (24); Rauf 4-22|
|Pakistan 135-5 (18.4 overs): Rizwan 33 (34), Asif 27 (12), Shoaib 26 (20); Sodhi 2-28|
|Pakistan won by five wickets|
A brutal partnership between Shoaib Malik and Asif Ali guided Pakistan to their second Men’s T20 World Cup victory in three days.
After emphatically thrashing rivals India by 10 wickets, Pakistan edged a nervy game against New Zealand to win by five wickets in Sharjah.
Chasing 135, Shoaib and Asif shared 48 to seal success with eight balls left.
New Zealand, playing their first game in Group 2, were restricted to 134-8 with Haris Rauf taking 4-22.
Asif, who twice had medical attention for concussion-like symptoms after top-edging a Tim Southee bouncer into his helmet, made an unbeaten 27 off just 12 balls, including three sixes.
His 23-ball partnership with Shoaib, who made 26 off 20, saw them home and boosted Pakistan’s semi-final hopes, with games against Afghanistan, Namibia and Scotland to come.
Black Caps pace bowler Lockie Ferguson has been ruled out of the tournament with a calf team, and been replaced by Adam Milne in the 15-player squad.
Asif and Shoaib shine
There were hopes for another high-scoring game after Afghanistan made 190 at Sharjah on Monday but this game was a return to the slower pitches that were on show during the Indian Premier League.
Despite that, a target of 135 felt well within Pakistan’s reach, especially after their demolition job of India. But when Asif walked out with five wickets down, they required 48 from 31 balls and Shoaib – who has now been not out in 18 winning international chases – was only nine balls into his innings.
Asif, who only averages 16.38 in international T20s, smashed his first ball for four through point before seizing control of the game in the 17th over.
He planted Southee, who became the third bowler to take 100 international T20 wickets when he bowled Babar Azam, over long-off, before going straighter next ball, as he pulled the required run-rate down to almost a run-a-ball.
The 30-year-old struggled following his head injury, but pulled another massive six over mid-wicket, with the next ball after receiving treatment, in a quite magnificent show of bravery and courage.
Shoaib, 39, was a late call-up for the tournament, but justified that by using all of his experience at the other end to rotate the strike and find the boundaries with the bad balls.
Pakistan bowlers excel again
Pakistan look well covered in the bowling ranks, with the left-arm pace of Shaheen Afridi, Rauf – whose 4-22 were career-best T20 international figures – Hassan Ali and the spin of Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan and Mohammad Hafeeez.
Today was about Rauf and his raw pace. His first ball was a searing yorker that cut though Martin Guptill, before he bowled him next ball off the inside edge.
The 27-year-old dismissed Devon Conway and Glenn Phillips in the 18th over, allowing Pakistan to squeeze their opponents.
Mitchell Santner gloriously drove him to the cover boundary but Rauf bowled him off the final ball of the innings to wrap up another solid performance with the ball by Pakistan, as they took five wickets for just 44 runs in the final seven overs.
New Zealand, who also lost both of their warm-up games, found batting difficult and will have to find a way to score more fluently in the conditions.
Sensational Conway catch in vain
Another tight finish led to an exciting game in front of a dominant Pakistan crowd, but the highlight was without doubt a superb Superman-style diving catch by Conway.
Hafeez looked to go out-to-in over long-off but Conway sprinted round, dived at full stretch and took a superb diving catch.
It certainly got quite the reaction from the cricket world and #bbccricket readers…
Erling L: Wow what a catch from Conway, this has to be the best speccy of the World Cup so far.
Jack Rule: OMG what was that from Devon Conway! That should not have been humanly possible!
‘Pakistan are the ones to watch’ – what they said
Pakistan captain Babar Azam: “It’s always good to win, we’ll take this confidence forward in the tournament. I think we gave them 10 runs too many, but that can happen.
“We lost wickets early, but I want to give credit to Shoaib Malik and Asif Ali. Every game is crucial.”
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson: “It is very disappointing. We were optimistic at the halfway stage and a lot of thought went into what we would be coming up against from this strong Pakistan side.
“It’s a tough one to swallow but they’re a really strong side and they’re ones to watch.”
Former England spinner Alex Hartley on Test Match Special: “New Zealand were 15 to 20 runs shy. If they’d got 150, it would have been a real struggle for Pakistan but because it was a low total, they didn’t have to take any risks.
“This result opens up the group and you never know what could happen. Pakistan look like the team to beat.”