Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi hailed the timing of the One-Day International (ODI) series win against New Zealand as it set the tone for the World Cup that gets underway on February 19. A maiden century by teenage opener Ahmed Shehzad inspired Pakistan to a 41-run win over New Zealand and wrapped up the six-match series with a game to spare.
Afridi, who is likely to be retained as captain when the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) makes the announcement today, praised Shehzad as the team clinched its first ODI series since beating the West Indies in 2008.
“What a talent he is,” said Afridi. “After a long long time Pakistan’s won an away series and at the right time, before the World Cup.”
The 19-year-old opener cracked 115 off 109 deliveries in a masterful innings in Hamilton as Pakistan posted 268 for nine in the fifth ODI.
New Zealand, who are on a rotten run of form, made the worst possible start, losing a wicket on the first ball when Jesse Ryder was run out and they never threatened from there.
Their innings came to a halt in the 47th over at 227 to give Pakistan an unbeatable 3-1 lead in the series with one match washed out. New Zealand have now lost 15 of their past 16 ODIs.
Meanwhile, the hosts were left to rue another dismal batting effort. “I think we pretty much wanted to chase no more than 90 in the last 10 overs. We did that but we lost too many wickets in that middle period so we put a lot of pressure on the lower order,” said New Zealand captain Ross Taylor.
But it will be a worry for Pakistan that, apart from Shehzad’s century, the other batsmen failed to get on top of a largely medium pace New Zealand attack.
Umar Akmal’s 32, before he was run out by wicket-keeper Brendon McCullum, was the second highest score while Misbahul Haq, the dominant performer in the series so far, struggled to 25 before he fell to an acrobatic catch by Jacob Oram at deep square leg.
But Shehzad held one end together and put on meaningful partnerships as the score kept ticking. By the time the teenager was dismissed Pakistan were in a healthy position of 197 for four in the 38th over but they were unable to capitalise on it over the remainder of their innings.
Afridi and Umar Akmal could only scrape together 39 runs in the batting power play between the 44th and 48th overs as Pakistan ended with 268.
After Ryder’s run-out on the first delivery. Wahab Riaz claimed the wicket of Jamie How for the first of his three scalps as New Zealand’s innings derailed. Taylor and Martin Guptill combined to put the team back on track but Shoaib Akhtar, back in the side after missing the last three ODIs, broke the valuable partnership.
From there on, the hosts never looked to be in the hunt and were bundled out in the 47th over.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th, 2011.