New Zealand marched into the semifinals of the World Twenty20 to leave Pakistan’s qualification hopes hanging by a threat after a 22-run victory in Mohali. On a bat-friendly pitch, Pakistan had looked set to chase down New Zealand’s total of 180 when Sharjeel Khan bludgeoned a quick-fire 47 at the top of the innings. But Pakistan never recovered from his dismissal as New Zealand’s spinners again came up trumps to slow down their opponents before the removal of captain Shahid Afridi put the Kiwis firmly in the driving seat.
As Pakistan went down meekly, New Zealand become the first team to reach the final four; some achievement for a team that came into the tournament with modest expectations after the recent retirement of their inspirational captain Brendon McCullum. And their three straight victories, over India, Australia and Pakistan, have been achieved in unlikely fashion. Remarkably, their two leading seam bowlers Tim Southee and Trent Boult have yet to take the field.
Instead New Zealand’s ability to read and adapt to the conditions, particularly with their previously unheralded spinners, has been key. Mitchell Satner and Ish Sodhi were integral once again, taking three wickets between them but equaling importantly bottling up Pakistan after their fast start.
The momentum of Sharjeel, dismissed after smashing an Adam Milne delivery straight in the air to Martin Guptill, had been well and truly checked. Afridi briefly threatened to get Pakistan back on track, hitting three boundaries in getting 19 from just nine balls. But he couldn’t stay in long enough to do sufficient damage, having been the victim of a superb high catch at long off from Corey Anderson off the bowling of Sodhi.
In all likelihood it now means that Friday’s match against Australia will be Afridi’s last as captain and quite possibly last in international cricket. As part of the fallout from a painful loss to India on Saturday, Afridi was the target of fierce criticism, and the head of the Pakistan cricket Board made it clear that, even if Afridi changed his mind about retiring after the tournament, he would not continue as skipper.
It was just another chapter in the tumultuous, unpredictable story of Pakistan cricket. And Tuesday’s encounter was a roller-coaster ride, too. Guptill was the main man for New Zealand with the bat, striking 80 off 48 balls, including 13 boundaries. But Pakistan had hit back and appeared as though they could limit New Zealand to a very manageable total. Instead fast bowlers Mohammad Irfan and Mohammad Amir were too costly, with the latter seeing the final over go for 16 runs.
In contrast, New Zealand bowled superbly at the death, remarkably not conceding a boundary in the final five overs. While New Zealand can now begin planning for the semifinals, even with on paper their most straightforward match of the group, against Bangladesh, still to play, Pakistan now need a win over Australia and other results to go their way.