Pakistan 177 for 6 (Jamshed 56, Hafeez 43, Southee 2-31) beat New Zealand 164 for 9 (Nicol 33, Ajmal 4-30) by 13 runs
Pakistan's batting line-up is their weak link this tournament but its top order dominated New Zealand's bowling, leaving its own superior attack with a relatively easier task of defending a formidable total - one that was achieved successfully, albeit not without a scare. There was consolation for New Zealand: having brought down the margin of defeat to 13 runs, they ensured they reached a net run-rate high enough to take them through to the Super Eights.
Mohammad Hafeez and Nasir Jamshed cashed in on a below-par performance from New Zealand in the field, putting together an impressive partnership during which their timing and apparent effortlessness in building on an aggressive opening stand stood out. The depth and variety in Pakistan's bowling, Hafeez's miserly spell and New Zealand's questionable tactics in the chase combined to put a target of 178 beyond reach, producing a winning start to Pakistan's tournament.
New Zealand had their chances. Hafeez decided to give his inconsistent batting the first go under sunny skies but in conditions where bowlers had assistance. Kyle Mills found early swing and should have had an initially-tentative Hafeez third ball, but Ross Taylor fluffed a straightforward chance at slip. Having dropped his Pakistan counterpart, the New Zealand captain was left flapping his lips when Hafeez launched Daniel Vettori for a six over long-on the next over.
Imran Nazir looked the more assured of the openers, using the depth of the crease well to dispatch Mills' two short deliveries for boundaries on either side of the ground, and continuing the treatment against Jacob Oram's half-trackers. Nazir fell in the last over of the Powerplay, caught and bowled by Tim Southee, but by then Hafeez had got into his groove with a couple of flowing drives and was about to be joined by a partner who wasted no time in keeping the momentum intact.
Tall, well-built and powerful, Jamshed was nowhere near brutal in his style of play. He didn't have to rely on sheer power to achieve what timing, placement and a sound technique did. Against Nathan McCullum's round-the-wicket line, he drove inside out, lofting the ball in the vacant space behind extra cover and clearing the ropes twice. He was equally wristy, clipping the ball square and through midwicket and slicing Mills over point for four. Mills was again unlucky, as a perfectly-positioned Rob Nicol at deep square leg spilled a chance off Jamshed, making matters worse by palming the ball for six when the batsman was on 42.
As Jamshed attacked at one end, Hafeez was content to rotate the strike, collecting runs down the ground, jabbing, steering and nudging the ball around for singles and even bludgeoning Nathan McCullum for six over midwicket. He was bowled trying to pull James Franklin in his first over but the 76-run stand with Jamshed had set an excellent launching pad.
New Zealand, though, pulled things back, dismissing Kamran Akmal and Jamshed in successive overs that yielded just 10. But Umar Akmal and the rest counterattacked in the last four. Even though Southee conceded just three in the 18th over, with third man and fine leg inside the circle, a generous dose of length, and misdirected, deliveries helped Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik score 42 in the last four.
New Zealand opened with Kane Williamson, a solid but less-attacking option, and played Vettori, busy, accumulative but not renowned as a big hitter, at No.3. The batting order suggested a strategy that relied heavily on the ammunition in the middle order to lead the surge in the late overs. Though that surge did come, and gave Pakistan plenty of anxious moments, it arrived at a time when the required-rate had reached 14 an over and, in hindsight, a touch too late.
Williamson made 15 in 13 but he had a fluent Rob Nicol at the other end. Nicol showed early intent, charging out to Sohail Tanvir and smacking him over long-on, and going over the top against Yasir Arafat with mid-off inside the circle. Pakistan bowled just one over of spin - from Hafeez, who conceded just 15 in his four-over spell - inside the Powerplay, and their slow bowlers stifled the innings once the field spread out.
Afridi mixed it up well and even found turn but Nicol was dislodged while attempting to cut one that went on straight. Williamson was run out shortly after, and the five overs after the Powerplay produced just 26 runs, with Vettori and Brendon McCullum at the crease. Saeed Ajmal's first over ended the deadlock with Brendon McCullum, who reverse-swept, stepped out and also cut well, picking him for boundaries. But with the asking rate climbing, the wickets came, Ajmal dismissing Vettori for 18 off 16 and Umar Gul yorking Brendon McCullum, who left his team with 70 needed off 29 balls. By then, Hafeez had completed his spell, with his first three overs only going for five runs.
It was too much to get in the end, despite Oram and Franklin's quick cameos and Taylor's assault of three fours in a row against Gul that brought down the equation to 22 off 9 balls. He was run-out brilliantly, courtesy a flat throw to the striker's end from the deep from Umar Akmal next ball, and the biggest threat in Pakistan's way, at that point, was eliminated.
Pakistan, we've been expecting you. The team with the best World Twenty20 record is the last to open its campaign in Sri Lanka. Pakistan have World Twenty20 pedigree. In the first tournament in 2007, they were finalists, and so nearly champions. They won in 2009, and in 2010 they had one foot in the final before Michael Hussey blind-sided them.
They've been put in the toughest group in 2012, with New Zealand and Bangladesh, and will play their first game against the stronger of those teams. Win against New Zealand, and Pakistan are almost certain to make it to the Super Eights; lose, and they will face a must-win against Bangladesh.
The strength of Mohammad Hafeez's side is unquestionably its bowling. In Saeed Ajmal, Umar Gul and Shahid Afridi, three bowlers of varied skills, Pakistan possess the highest wicket-takers in Twenty20 internationals. Any of those bowlers can turn a Twenty20 game single-handedly and a collective performance can be devastating. Their batting is less formidable; it can be hot or cold. In the two warm-ups for the World Twenty20, Pakistan chased 186 successfully against India but failed to achieve 112 against England. The challenge, as ever, will be for Pakistan to combine their enviable talent with discipline.
New Zealand go into this game with the opportunity to win Group D. Doing so will make their progress to the Super Eight independent of the result of the Pakistan-Bangladesh fixture. Their evisceration of Bangladesh by 59 runs on Friday was almost faultless. The key battle in that game was tipped to be between New Zealand's batsmen and Bangladesh's spinners. They took 117 off 12 overs from the slow men. A strong performance against a more formidable Pakistan will make people sit up and take notice of a team that isn't considered to be a strong contender for the 2012 title.
(completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand: WWLLL
Watch out for
The majority of New Zealand batsmen: Brendon McCullum, with his 123 off 58 balls, demolished Bangladesh single-handedly. So aggressive was his approach and so clinical his execution that there was almost no pressure on his team-mates. All they needed to do was give McCullum strike. It's unlikely that anyone will play as explosive an innings against Pakistan, so the contributions need to be more collective to reduce the reliance on McCullum and Ross Taylor.
Saeed and Shahid: In Ajmal and Afridi, not only do Pakistan possess the highest and third highest wicket-takers in this format, but also the third and fourth lowest economy-rates among bowlers who've played at least 20 Twenty20 internationals. Ajmal goes at 6.03 per over on average and Afridi 6.10. They strike and they stifle.
New Zealand may not make any changes to the XI that beat Bangladesh, but it is likely they will change their batting order. James Franklin, the left-handed allrounder, opened with Martin Guptill in the first game to combat Bangladesh's left-arm spin, but Rob Nicol could return to the top on Sunday.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Rob Nicol, 3 Brendon McCullum (wk), 4 Ross Taylor (capt), 5 Kane Williamson, 6 James Franklin, 7 Jacob Oram, 8 Daniel Vettori, 9 Nathan McCullum, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Kyle Mills.
The four players Pakistan are likely to leave out of their starting line-up are Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Sami, Raza Hasan and Yasir Arafat.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Imran Nazir, 3 Nasir Jamshed, 4 Kamran Akmal (wk), 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Shoaib Malik, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Abdul Razzaq, 9 Sohail Tanvir, 10 Umar Gul, 11 Saeed Ajmal.
Pitch and conditions
The forecast is for some showers in Pallekele. It threatened to rain during the Bangladesh-New Zealand game as well but there were no interruptions. The spinners didn't get much turn either, with the ball coming on to the bat.
Stats and trivia
Pakistan played New Zealand in Pallekele during the 2011 World Cup and fed Ross Taylor a diet of full tosses and deliveries that were too straight. He scored 131 off 124 balls.
New Zealand and Pakistan have played eight Twenty20 internationals and the head-to-head record is 5-3 in Pakistan's favour. New Zealand's three wins, however, came in the last four matches.
In Twenty20 matches over the last 12 months, Afridi and Ajmal have economy-rates of less than six an over. Mohammad Hafeez and Sohail Tanvir conceded 5.82 and 5.94 on average during this period.
Who should win..?? A Bangladesh win would make the group interesting, as Pakistan will have to make sure that they beat Nz to knock them out. Otherwise if Pakistan lose to NZ & beat Bangladesh in their next match, it will come down to the net run rate to decide the super 8 teams..