All of a sudden, the winner of last year’s Champions Trophy, Pakistan discover themselves two down in the five-match ODI series against New Zealand. Yet again the top order failed to deliver while the bowlers lacked the cutting edge to test the home team’s batters.
Pakistan are being just themselves. They have kick-started the new year with a loss in two consecutive ODIs against New Zealand. The side that had ended 2016 with nine ODI wins in succession under their belt, is struggling to even post a decent total on the board. Maybe, the rain intervened both the games, but in both the matches the situation Pakistan were in suggested clearly that they would end up on the losing side. The Champions Trophy winners, Pakistan, suddenly are looking the same level as the faint West Indies that were hammered in New Zealand in the last few weeks.
The reason behind Pakistan’s inconsistency is still yet to be decoded. There would be very few who are surprised right now watching the sudden downfall of the team that was arguably the best in 2017, at least in the limited-overs. Last year, Pakistan played four ODI series (including the CT 2017) and won three, only losing a series to Australia.
Even in the T20Is, Pakistan had their beaming moments. They played three T20I series and won all of them. Cricket, after a very long time, returned to Pakistan when they hosted the World XI that included the players from South Africa, Bangladesh, Australia, Sri Lanka and West Indies. The two sides locked horns in three T20Is for the Independence Cup trophy. The hosts won all three T20I matches to become the winners of the inaugural series.
2-0 to New Zealand! Martin Guptill smashes 87* to guide the Blackcaps to a 8 wicket win (DLS) in a rain-affected encounter with Pakistan in Nelson #NZvPAK
— ICC (@ICC) January 9, 2018
The year, 2017, will always be remembered fondly in the history of Pakistan’s cricket. They had entered the ICC Champions Trophy as the lower-ranked side, where they gave ODI debut to around three-four players and all of them had delivered for them in their journey to their maiden Champions Trophy title. Pakistan’s skipper, Sarfraz Ahmed, was just one ODI series old. If they had entered the event with any little confidence, it was mercilessly shattered by Team India in their opening game. Pakistan suffered a huge 124-run loss to India before they finally gelled up as a unit that was a blend of young and experienced.
They crossed their first hurdle when they went past a well established South Africa. Their next match was against Sri Lanka and it was a must-win fixture for Pakistan. A win would take them through to the semi-final and against anybody’s expectations, Pakistan indeed went through and then they had England in between them and a place in the final. England, the side that was unbeaten so far in the tournament, were considered as strong favourites since they were the hosts. However, Pakistan’s fairytale run continued as they cheaply bundled England out for 211 and chased down the target with 77 balls remaining. The final would put them once again in front of their arch rival and this time around, Pakistan would successfully avenge their humiliating loss in the first game.
Nevertheless, whatever followed next at the Oval was nothing close to their previous encounter. Pakistan’s debutant in the tournament, Fakhar Zaman, scored a superb century and fifties from their senior men, Azhar Ali and Mohammad Hafeez meant Pakistan had a competitive total of 338 by the end of the 50 overs. If that was their best batting performance in the entire tournament, their bowling would touch another level. Mohammad Amir and Co ensured Pakistan would not lose to India in yet another ICC final as they bowled India out for a mere 158 runs. Pakistan bagged their maiden Champions Trophy and there began a new journey for Pakistan in the cricketing domain.
Pakistan’s graph of unpredictability just got worsened when they were whitewashed by Sri Lanka in two-Test series in the UAE. Prior to that series, no other team had defeated Pakistan in a Test series there. However, Pakistan at least continued their good show in the white ball game and clean swept Sri Lanka in the ODI and T20I series.
Pakistan flew down to New Zealand with a positive mindset. They had at least one player in the top of the ICC ODI rankings. While Hasan Ali and Mohammad Hafeez led the ODI bowling and all-rounder charts, their top-order batsman Babar Azam was the No. 4 batsman, behind Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and David Warner. If their players stuck to their strengths and roles and did their job, Pakistan certainly could have continued their 2017 run into 2018. However, that is yet to happen. Pakistan’s strength in limited-overs has been their pace attack, which was also the significant reason behind their Champions Trophy victory last year.
— ICC (@ICC) January 9, 2018
Despite New Zealand being a fast bowler’s paradise, none of Pakistan’s pacers managed to create any impacts in the first ODI in Wellington, where they were all smashed for more than six an over. The hosts’ top-order of Martin Guptill, Colin Munro and Kane Williamson fired and they ended up with 315 runs in 50 overs. In reply, apart from Fakhar Zaman, no other top or middle-order’s batsman delivered. Although Pakistan could bat only 30.1 overs before the rain had stopped the play then but since more than 20 overs were bowled, D/L method came into the picture that declared New Zealand won the game by 61 runs.
The same story repeated in the second ODI as well. In fact, Pakistan suffered a major blow even before the start of the match when Fakhar had to be ruled out due to an injury. The match witnessed yet another failure from the top-order but Hafeez stabilised the innings in the middle. However, he fell at 127 for 6 and a few minutes later, Pakistan were seven down for just 147 runs. An incredible fightback from the tail-enders, Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan took Pakistan to a respectable total of 246 for 9. Both scored a gutsy half-century and together, they pulled off five sixes and seven fours. Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Todd Astle, all had bowled economical and wicket-taking first spells but Hasan and Shadab scripted an onslaught against them towards the end to ruin their figures at the end that went above 50 runs in 10 overs.
Martin Guptill smashed an unbeaten 86 to help New Zealand go 2-0 up in the #NZvPAK ODI series.
— ICC (@ICC) January 9, 2018
For an in-form New Zealand, a target of 247 at home would never be a difficult chase. Last game, it was their skipper with the charge, on Tuesday, it was Guptill who switched gears effortlessly and was well complemented by Ross Taylor. After the rain stopped the play, the target was revised to 151 off 25 overs and Guptill and Taylor remained unbeaten on 86 and 45 as New Zealand triumphed with 13 balls and eight wickets to spare.
New Zealand have gone 2-0 up in the five-ODI series and the next ODI is a must-win for the touring party in order to remain alive in the series. The last time Pakistan won an ODI series in New Zealand was back in 2010 but with this current side that boasts the likes of Babar Azam, Mohammad Amir, Hafeez, Hasan Ali, Azhar Ali among others, being so unpredictable with their forms, they can never be written off at any point of time in a series.