Late Ali and Malik heroics deny New Zealand in low-scoring thriller
Pakistan won a nervy thriller in Sharjah as they successfully chased down 135 to beat New Zealand by five wickets.
The ball was on top for much of the match, and New Zealand looked to be heading to a win in their first game of the tournament when wickets tumbled through the middle overs, including one to an outrageous catch from Devon Conway.
But Asif Ali and Shoaib Malik produced a flurry of boundaries at the death to reach the target with eight balls remaining.
Tight through the Powerplay
The Kiwis were handed a blow prior to the toss when the news was confirmed that bowler Lockie Ferguson has been ruled out of the World Cup with a calf tear.
And it didn’t get much better with the bat once play got underway, as they hobbled to 134/8 off their 20 overs after being put in by an in-form Pakistan.
Shaheen Shah Afridi, fresh from his heroics against India on Sunday, bowled a maiden in the opening over to immediately put a batting-heavy New Zealand side under pressure.
While Daryl Mitchell found the boundary twice with big maximums, it was heavy going for New Zealand through the Powerplay.
The openers both fell as they looked to up the scoring rate, with Martin Guptill bowled by Haris Rauf and Mitchell caught at long-on off Imad Wasim.
Struggles in the middle order
Jimmy Neesham’s visit to the middle lasted just two deliveries as Zaman bagged his second catch of the innings to leave New Zealand 60/3 at the midway point of the innings.
A partnership between captain Kane Williamson and Conway did hint at a revival for the Black Caps, before Williamson was brilliantly run out by Hasan Ali off his own bowling.
The innings faltered further in the 18th over when Rauf had Conway and Glenn Phillips both caught in the deep.
Rauf finished with a wicket off the final delivery of the innings to end with stand-out figures of 4/22, with Afridi also impressing with his 1/21.
Of New Zealand’s top six, only Mitchell with 27 (20) and Conway 27 (24) scored at better than a run-a-ball.
In reply the Pakistan openers Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan picked up where they left off against India, controlling the Powerplay and seemingly cruising the chase.
But Tim Southee gave New Zealand a sniff when he bowled the Pakistan captain for nine.
Zaman’s scratchy innings came to a close with 11 off 17 when he was trapped in-front by Ish Sodhi.
There was still a lot for the Kiwis to do, and a dangerous Mohammad Hafeez looked intent on getting the chase over in a hurry as he raced to 11 off just five balls. But the match swung when Hafeez lofted his sixth ball to the long-off boundary where he was sensationally caught by a diving Conway in the catch of the tournament so far.
Pakistan’s chances of victory took a further substantial blow when Rizwan fell to Sodhi with the target still 66 runs away and with the top four all back in the hutch.
But Pakistan lit it up at the back end of the innings, with Ali particularly ferocious, slamming three sixes in his 27 off just 12 balls
Malik finished with a similarly crucial 27 (20), but it was his partner who hit the winning runs, banging his third six over wide long-on off Trent Boult before rolling a two to a similar area to seal the win in the penultimate over.
The result sends Pakistan back above Afghanistan to the top of Group 2 with two wins from two matches.
Next up for New Zealand are India in Dubai on Sunday, where both teams will be searching for their first points of the tournament.