Pakistan fights back to post a competitive total scoreboard

BIG STRIKE: New Zealand’s Ian Butler celebrates the dismissal of Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi in the ICC Champions Trophy second semifinal on Saturday.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: Hamish Blair / Getty Images

S. Dinakar

CRICKET / Yousuf and Umar Akmal bat well; Aamer-Ajmal pair adds crucial runs for the last wicket

Kiwis stutter

New Zealand was 72 for three in 17 overs. Taylor (8) and Elliott (1) were at the crease. McCullum (17), Redmond (31) and Guptill (11) were the batsmen dismissed.

Johannesburg: Pakistan’s fighting last-wicket pair provided the final twist to an innings of fortune swings as New Zealand was set a target of 234 at the Wanderers on Saturday.

The often brave and largely entertaining unbeaten partnership of 35 off 34 balls between Mohammed Aamer and Saeed Ajmal took Pakistan to 233 for nine in the second semifinal of the ICC Champions Trophy.

Aamer created room to smash Shane Bond through the off-side field and pulled the Kiwi spearhead as the Pakistani supporters roared. Ajmal was cheeky on the leg-side, even paddle sweeping paceman Kyle Mills to the fence.

These were crucial runs after Pakistan had delayed taking its batting Power Play until the 45th over.

Earlier, a fine blend of experience and youth revived Pakistan’s hopes before New Zealand struck back.

Making early inroads

The Kiwis had made serious inroads — Pakistan was 86 for four in the 21st over — when Mohammad Yousuf and Umar Akmal joined hands.

Before Yousuf (45, 78b, 3x4) played on to Mills, attempting a steer, the fifth-wicket partnership had added 80 crucial runs.

Soon, the enterprising Umar (55, 62b, 7x4) — venturing into a paddle sweep — was adjudged leg-before to left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori. Replays showed the ball had hit the pad off the willow.

Not much later, the big-hitting Shahid Afridi, trying a dab shot to a delivery outside off-stump, nicked seamer Ian Butler to ’keeper Brendon McCullum. New Zealand was in the game again.

The Kiwis sliced through the tail before running into a road-block in the form of Aamer and Ajmal.

Earlier, the talented Umar showed admirable temperament in a stressful situation. He used the crease capably against Vettori. The youngster is quick of mind and feet and cashed in on the slightest room and width, dismissing the ball in the arc between point and cover.

Gradually, Pakistan picked up the pieces. The senior Yousuf held firm at one end, providing space for Umar to blossom at the other.

Run-making was not easy though. The Kiwis bowlers were disciplined and the fielding was sharp.

Pakistan had opted to bat; Younus Khan possibly wanted to avoid the pressures of chasing; there was also a threat of rain in the evening. The pitch did not offer the pacemen as much assistance off the seam as in the earlier games. Imran Nazir was off like a run-away train with his hand-eye coordination and bat-speed. The track suited someone like Nazir; the ball was coming on to the bat.

The intrepid opener thumped Mills off the back-foot in the opening over to set the ball rolling for Pakistan.

Bond was immaculate from the other end. He worked up pace, kept the ball around the off-stump with subtle changes in length and moved the odd delivery away. Nazir kept finding boundaries even if he walked the tightrope. Mills was struck over mid-off, and Butler was pulled and cover-driven for three fours in his first over.

But then, Nazir could not consolidate. Bond’s short-pitched delivery climbed wickedly into Nazir and the batsman could do no more than fend into the hands of Ross Taylor at slip.

Pakistan was 46 for one after the first 10 Power Play overs. Gradually Kamran Akmal opened out, pulling Butler past the ropes and stroking Bond square on the off-side.

Pick of the bowlers

Butler, however, settled down into a much better off-stump line. In the Kiwi attack, he was the pick.

The paceman consumed Shoaib Malik with a short-of-a-good-length delivery that moved just a shade. Malik’s tendency to hang his bat out without moving across saw him edging to a diving Taylor at first slip.

There was a turn-around in the contest. When Butler sent down a fuller length ball, a well-set Kamran, venturing into a lofted drive, succeeded in finding the lone fielder at sweeper cover; Aaron Redmond held a well-judged catch.

Vettori added to the pressure with his immaculate left-arm spin. The Kiwi captain soon took out his opposite number. Younus was done in by the extra bounce as he pushed forward to a Vettori delivery on the off-stump. The ball looped into short cover’s hands.

The Pakistan innings was in a mess before Yousuf and Umar came together.