Over the last four seasons, barring South Africa, every team that toured New Zealand, failed to win their series against the Kiwis in both formats of limited overs cricket. This season, New Zealand again seemed invincible at home as they demolished the West Indies in both formats without losing a single game.
They continued the rout against Pakistan by clean sweeping them 5-0in the One Day Internationals (ODIs). In the T20Is, however, Pakistan fought back and salvaged their pride by winning the series 2-1 — in the process claiming the Number 1 ranking in the format.
Playing against a team with an impeccable record at home was always going to be a tough ask for Pakistan.
What makes it so hard to win in New Zealand for touring sides is a combination of two factors — the playing conditions and the quality of the home team. The pitches in New Zealand have pace and bounce, and the conditions are conducive for swing. Whereas the quality of this New Zealand side lies in their all-round ability. Simply put, they check all the boxes — two aggressive openers, a strong middle order, quality all-rounders, a potent pace attack and wily spinners.
Their fitness and athletic fielding abilities are the icing on the cake.
It was a combination of these two factors that Pakistan appeared to have no answer to as the series began. They ended up losing the first six games (five ODIs and one T20I) on the trot, and it seemed they would suffer the fate of the teams that had toured before them. But with two T20Is left to play and the series still at stake, Pakistan turned the corner and played in the manner which made them so successful throughout 2017.
If only they had switched on earlier in the tour, the result of the ODI series could have been much closer.
So what did Pakistan change in the last two T20Is that made it possible for them to beat a team that was on the verge of humiliating them? Or perhaps the question should be what did Pakistan do so wrong in the ODIs to begin with? The answer is plain and simple — their batting!
The conditions were always going to be challenging — which New Zealand’s new ball bowlers exploited perfectly. Our batsmen, though, were clearly underprepared as they appeared clueless and completely out of their depth to cope with the challenge. In all five games, the top order batsmen struggled. The highest opening partnership they were able to muster was 14 runs — in the other four matches, it did not reach double digits. In at least three ODIs, by the time the first Powerplay was completed, Pakistan had all but conceded the game.
The stark contrast in the performance of both teams is clearly visible by comparing their statistics in the first Powerplay (See ODI Series Table). Pakistan completely failed to make use of the first 10 overs throughout the five matches. In three games they lost three or more wickets, in the remaining two they lost two each. The best run rate they could manage in the first Powerplay was 4.3 in the fourth ODI. In total, Pakistan lost 14 wickets throughout the series in the first Powerplay.
New Zealand, on the other hand, lost only four wickets in the first Powerplay throughout the five matches. Pakistan’s opening bowlers rarely managed to swing the ball like their New Zealand counterparts. They missed their lengths as well which allowed Colin Munro and Martin Guptill, the New Zealand openers, to make full use of the fielding restrictions. All in all, the performance of both teams during the first 10 overs is good enough to demonstrate where the ODI series was lost.
Pakistan’s worst performance with the bat in the first Powerplay came in the third ODI. They scored nine runs for the loss of three wickets and were eventually bowled out for an ignominious 74. Whereas their best performance with the bat in the first Powerplay was in the 4th ODI at Hamilton. Hence it doesn’t come as a surprise that this was the game Pakistan came closest to winning.
After setting New Zealand a target of 263, Pakistan was in a commanding position when they had the home team 5 wickets down for 153 in the 35th over. But, in the end, a freakish innings of 74 from 40 balls by Colin de Grandhomme stole the match from them.
After the conclusion of the ODI series, the Pakistan fans hoped that a change in format would bring a change in the fortunes of their team. This did not happen — not immediately at least. Pakistan played the first T20I in the same manner as they played the ODIs. They lost early wickets during the Powerplay and never recovered to score enough runs.
In the second match at Auckland, they put in their best performance with the bat. Ahmed Shehzad and Fakhar Zaman gave a blistering start to the innings with an opening partnership of 94 runs in 10 overs — Pakistan’s best throughout the series. Such a strong start enabled the other top-order batsmen to build on this foundation for the first time in the series. The New Zealand spinners, in particular Mitchell Santner who had appeared unplayable till this point, was taken to the cleaners as Pakistan posted a commanding total. The bowlers then ensured the victory for Pakistan.
In the final T20I, Pakistan again got off to a decent start, and with wickets in hand they were able to score 58 off the last four overs and put up a par score of 181. The bowlers again succeeded in defending the total.
Once again, the statistics show how Pakistan increase their chances of winning by performing well in the Powerplay (See T20I Statistics Table). In the first game, Pakistan lost four wickets while scoring only 24 runs and ended up on the losing side. In the second match, they scored 57 without losing any wickets. New Zealand too scored briskly but lost three wickets which affected their chase. In the third T20I, both teams had a similar start losing a wicket each, however, Pakistan’s bowling attack — in particular, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir and Aamer Yamin squeezed the runs and ensured New Zealand fell short of their target.
Regardless of the poor batting of the top order, there were still a few bright spots in the ODI series. Haris was brought into the team for the last two games and he immediately made an impact scoring 50s in each. Fakhar, too, scored two half-centuries, scoring his runs at an average of 50 and strike rate of 81. Another encouraging sign for Pakistan was the batting of the lower-order batsmen, especially young Shadab Khan. He scored two valuable half-centuries down the order which strengthened his credentials as a genuine all-rounder.
Star batsman Babar Azam was probably the biggest disappointment in the ODI series. In five games, he managed to score only 31 runs. In the T20Is, though, he was back to his best as he top scored with 109 runs at an average of 54 and a strike rate of 125. Fakhar carried his good form from the ODIs into the T20Is and played important knocks in both the matches that Pakistan ended up winning. Bringing Ahmed Shehzad back into the team and the promotion of Sarfraz at Number 4 also seemed to have a positive impact.
The bowling was good in both formats with all the bowlers stepping up at some point or the other. Shadab Khan though was the pick of the bowlers as the New Zealand batsmen found it difficult to read his variations throughout the tour. Amir bowled well in the T20Is and won the Man of the Series trophy for his efforts.
Truth be told, Pakistan had quite a good team on this tour. If only they had performed better with the bat they could have competed in the ODI series as well — in fact they could have won it. They showed in the last two T20Is that their strength is in their bowling and if the batsmen put up a good score, they are good enough against any side anywhere in the world.
During the ODI leg, the batsmen miserably failed to adapt to the conditions. It took them 6 games before they finally found a way to score runs in New Zealand. It doesn’t come as a surprise though as Pakistan reached New Zealand hardly a week before the start of the ODI series and played only one practice match against a New Zealand-XI in Nelson. This didn’t give the batsmen enough time to adjust to the conditions in New Zealand — a point the PCB needs to take into consideration whenever Pakistan are due to tour a country where the conditions are significantly different from the UAE.
The tour, however, cannot be considered a complete failure as Pakistan’s victory in the T20Is will go down as one their most significant ones in the format — they defeated the Number 1 team at their home and claimed the top spot themselves. It is now time for the cricket board and the team management to realise the potential of this young squad and ensure they move forward in the right direction.
The 2018 Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) annual conference is scheduled for April 8 to 11 in Boao, Hainan Province. The forum will be themed "An Open and Innovative Asia for a World of Greater Prosperity."
— The Daily Mail - People's Daily