The 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup season has already begun with several nations engaging themselves in short-series before the warm-up games. The idea is to have as much practice as possible. Pakistan landed in New Zealand in the last week of January for precisely this reason. They played two games against New Zealand Board President’s XI at the Bert Sutcliffe Oval in Lincoln on January 25 and 27 before the first ODI at Wellington. Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq excelled in his team’s mounting a very creditable 313 but still lost the game narrowly because of some cavalier show by the host side. Two days later, Haq produced another superb knock against the Board’s team at the same venue and lost that match too with just one ball left. On January 31, 2015 the visitors played the first ODI of the 2-match series and suffered another defeat. This time, however, the margin of defeat was pretty wide with New Zealand comfortably winning by 7 wickets with more than 10 overs remaining. Misbah-ul-Haq played a good knock himself and he was ably supported by veteran Shahid Afridi. But just as in the two games against New Zealand Board President’s XI, the top order Pakistani batsmen flopped. It must be a matter of great concern for Pakistan with their first match in the 2015 cricket World Cup only two weeks away. Incidentally they take on arch-rivals India at the Adelaide Oval on February 15 for that game. Before that, three more games should give Pakistan some much needed practice.
New Zealand won the toss in the first ODI at Wellington on January 31, 2015 and asked Pakistan to bat first. Brendon McCullum must have been keeping a close eye at Pakistan’s top-order batting failure in their first two games against the Board’s team. This would have prompted him to make the first use of his seam bowlers against the undisciplined Pakistanis. There has been considerable improvement in New Zealand’s seam attack and they have been excelling in the field of late. McCullum’s decision paid off at the start of the Pakistani innings as first three wickets fell for 32 by the 12th over. Kyle Mills created fear and was hard to score against. Mills removed Mohammad Hafeez in the first over by a beautiful delivery that pitched outside off but swung in sharply and sneaked through the gap between Hafeez’s bat and pad. In the 12th over, Mills got rid of Younis Khan by another beauty that also came in sharply and hit the batsman’s pads before Khan could bring his bat. Despite taking the review, Khan was declared out LBW. In the 10th over earlier, Trent Boult had accounted for Ahmed Shehzad, who slashed at a wide ball and edged a catch to the keeper.
To counter the early losses, skipper Misbah had to be cautious to avoid further damage and he succeeded in steadying the Pakistani boat by his 87-ball 58. But Misbah was at pains to see his colleague indulging in woeful acts to sacrifice their wickets at the other end. Coming in at 29/2, Misbah was joined by Afridi at 127/6. The two batsmen of contrasting style added 71 in a very quick time. But in trying to hasten the scoring rate, Misbah played a lofted shot and holed out in the deep. Meanwhile Afridi had already completed a 21-ball 50 and progressed to 67 before he departed. With nothing of substance coming from other batsmen, Pakistan were all out in the 46th over for 210.
211 was an easy target for New Zealand, who raced to 31 in the 4th over before McCullum fell to a poor shot off Bilawal Bhatti’s bowling. Martin Guptill and Tom Latham added 44 for the second wicket and after Latham got out, Guptill and Ross Taylor took the score to 101, before Guptill got out as the third wicket. That was as far as Pakistan would go in terms of taking wickets because Taylor and Elliot played with authority and didn’t get separated until New Zealand reached the victory target with 63 balls remaining.