New Zealand 302-7, Pakistan 192

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It is Pakistan’s burden that they will be pursued by whispers and innuendo through this tournament and, most likely, for a long time after the final has come and gone. It is the price that the team pay for the bans given to three of their players earlier this year. Even as Shahid Afridi was clapping Ross Taylor off the pitch in recognition of his startlingly violent 131 for New Zealand, ugly rumours began to swirl around the internet.

Australia, Sri Lanka, England and India have all been accused of spot-fixing by journalists and fans since the tournament began, now it is Pakistan’s turn. In each case there has been no evidence other than what everyone has seen take place on the pitch. That is the climate of the times. The International Cricket Council’s anti-corruption and security unit will treat this match no differently to any other, in that it investigates every match played, and everyone else should do the same.

Taylor could have, should have, been out twice before he had made even five. On nought he sliced a catch between the wicketkeeper and first slip, who stood and stared at each other as the ball flew away for four. Taylor had turned 27 that morning, and the PA system blasted out Happy Birthday after that boundary. It was certainly a lavish gift from Pakistan. Two balls later he edged through to Kamran Akmal, who clapped at it like a circus seal and watched the ball fall to the floor. Akmal’s ineptitude was almost matched by that of Shoaib Akhtar, who conceded 31 runs in his first five overs, 21 of those in wides, no-balls, free hits and, worst of all, four overthrows he flung past Akmal after fielding a forward defensive.

But Pakistan pulled it back. Umar Gul bowled superbly while the spinners tied the batsmen up in knots at the other end. Taylor, so scratchy he could hardly hit the ball at first, decided it would be enough just to survive. He scraped his way to 68 from 98 balls. With eight overs to play, his side were listing at 175 for five. And then all hell broke loose.

Afridi’s final over cost 14, but that was just an appetiser. Akhtar came back into the attack and delivered three balls as bad as any he has sent down in his long career, waist-high full tosses that Taylor crashed for four through point, and then a pair of sixes to mid-wicket. Ruffled, Shoaib delivered two wides. Another four, another six, and the tally came to 28, the most expensive over in the tournament yet.

Until, that is, Abdul Razzaq took the next over from that end. His cost 30. In all Taylor swatted seven sixes over towards mid-wicket, one of them disappearing over the grass banks and out of the ground. He hit 55 runs from his final 13 balls, which made Jacob Oram’s 25 off nine look almost reserved. The two bludgeoned 85 in 3.4 overs, the quickest fifty partnership in the history of one-day internationals.

If it took four overs for New Zealand’s batsmen to set the skittles up, it took twice as many for the bowlers to knock them down. Tim Southee and Kyle Mills bowled beautifully under the floodlights, both swinging the ball this way and that. Mills’s third over was a double-wicket maiden, with Ahmed Shehzad pinned leg before and Younis Khan bowled three balls later. Kamran was caught at slip, by Taylor of all people, off the first ball of the next over. Pakistan were 23 for four.

Afridi, who has his own firm ideas about what constitutes a captain’s innings, carted 17 off nine balls. And after that the fans began to drift away as the tail stalled for time. It was the first ODI ever to be played at the Pallekele Stadium, and it seems unlikely it will ever see another one quite like it.
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This post was submitted by Harshit Agrawal.

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