Iftikhar’s blitz goes in vain as New Zealand down Pakistan

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LAHORE: Iftikhar Ahmed’s blitz went in vain as New Zealand fought back to down Pakistan by four runs to reduce the deficit to 2-1 in the five-match T20 series here at the Gaddafi Stadium on Monday night.
Electing to bat, the visitors piled up 163 runs for five in their quota of overs and Pakistan responded slowly initially but aggressively lately to fall short at 159 for all. Pakistan almost pulled a sensation thanks to the combined efforts of Iftikhar Ahmed and Faheem Ashraf. But the team green could not meet demand of time and lost all of their wickets by the final ball when five runs were required on the last delivery.
Iftikhar in his attempt of overhauling the target completed his fourth T20 career half century and was caught on the fourth ball of the last over. He mustered 60 runs in 24 balls. His six sixes and three fours were not enough to save Pakistan blushes. Whereas the last man standing Naseem Shah faced three dot balls thus failed to hit big when it was needed the most while Haris Rauf also had a two ball duck.
Pakistan was on its way to losing the game but the 23 runs 18th over of Adam Milne was the turning phase in the match in which Faheem shacked three sixes and a four while the 19th over earned Pakistan eight runs and the loss of Faheem’s wicket.
At the point in time Pakistan required 15 runs in the final over in which Iftikhar hit a six and four on alternate balls leaving Pakistan five runs short. But the key man Iftikhar was out on the fourth ball leaving Naseem and Rauf to do the needful. Needing five runs, Pakistan was looking for a six and Rauf tried his best but that hit landed in the safe hands of Bowes at deep mid-wicket and all was over for Pakistan. New Zealand that lost the first two matches by 88 and 38 runs respectively, is now keeping its hopes alive in the series. Now the teams will travel to Rawalpindi on Tuesday to complete the five-match series with two games to be played at Pindi Stadium on April 20 and 24, which will be followed by a five-match ODI series.
Pakistan were opposite of the approach they have shown in their last two matches had Iftikhar and Faheem not played a savior the match was clearly slipping away. Their key performers in Captain Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan failed to middle the ball. Babar was the first to get out to Adam Milne in the second over for just one run while Rizwan who had a strained lower back, was run out in the fourth over for six runs. The early blow to Pakistan batting put the responsibility on Fakhar Zaman and Saim Ayub with the latter escaping a close LBW call from Milne when he was at two.
When Pakistan reached 39, Saim failed to read James Neesham’s ball and had to head back at his personal 10 and Pakistan was in dire straits. As the required run rate was almost 10 and swelling, Pakistan was lingering at around five runs average and the target seemed a distant dream to achieve. Because after an addition of a few more runs, Fakhar was stumped with yards away from the crease. Ravindra deceived Fakhar while Latham did the rest. Fakhar could make 17 in 22 balls.
With an addition of another 10 runs to the total, Imad Wasim, who was new to the crease abandoned Shadab and Pakistan was 55 for five in the 11th over. Shaheen Shah Afridi that replaced outgoing Imad (3), lasted just six balls at the crease for as many runs.
Shadab and Iftikhar Ahmed together provided hope to the team with a few big hits by getting 15 runs in the 14th over aided with two sixes to Ravindra. Iftikhar’s two hits, one at long on and the other to mid-wicket cheered the crowd. But Shadab on the very first ball of the 15th over thrown by Milne became the seventh victim of Pakistan at 88.
However, Iftikhar and Faheem Ashraf’s cameo got Pakistan 61 runs partnership off 26 balls that turned the match Pakistan way. But the later batters in Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf fell to pressure and the game was lost.
James Neesham with three wickets was the pick of bowlers from New Zealand Rachin Ravindra and Adam Milne shared two wickets each and Matt Henry and Ish Sodhi got one apiece. Earlier, New Zealand came up with a much better batting display as compared to the previous two matches. They initiated their campaign steadily and slowly in the initial part of the innings and after passage of half the overs they opened up hitting big boundaries. Tom Latham was the major wrecker from the Kiwi’s batting lineup.
Batting cautiously, he first acclimatized to the conditions and understanding the bahaviour of the wicket and then unleashed his batting proficiency. But in the buildup of his innings he lost two of his partners.
First he saw Chad Bowes’s departure and few overs later, Will Young became the second Kiwi victim. Shaheen Shah Afridi clean bowled Bowes (7, 9b 1×4), when New Zealand were at 20 by the termination of the third over. Later in the ninth over, Young tried to hit Shadab to far off to long-on but ends up skying it to only to find Fakhar Zaman in the way and New Zealand were now two down for 56. Young made 17 in 15 balls with the help of three boundaries, one of which was a maximum.
Latham, however, found a useful partner in Daryl Mitchell and the two combined developed 65 runs for the third wicket. They first brought New Zealand’s 50 in 7.3 overs and then raced to 100 in 12.5 overs. In that progression. Latham also reached the third half century of his career in 41 balls. And before the two could have extended the score, Mitchell attempting a big to a slower delivery from Shaheen conceded his wicket after completing 33 runs in 26 balls. The breakthrough came at the right time for Pakistan because the partnership was getting more effective for the Kiwis. Mitchell hit two fours and a six.
In the very next over, Haris Rauf earned the most important wicket for Pakistan. Latham was looking to pace up the score but the ball brushed a big outside edge only to Rizwan doing the rest behind the stumps. Latham in his 49 balls innings punctuated 65 runs with the help of seven fours and two sixes.

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