After a somewhat off-colour performance where Pakistan allowed New Zealand to get close to them, this was back to business for the hosts. A century from Babar Azam – his 18th in ODIs – helped Pakistan post an intimidating 334 for 6 after being put in to bat.
It was then up to the bowlers, who were at their ruthless best, to shut New Zealand out. The game as a contest was over well before the final wicket fell and New Zealand folded for 232, putting Pakistan up 4-0 in the five-match series and at the top of the ICC rankings for ODI teams in the process.
From the moment the chase began, it was apparent that keeping up with the asking rate would be a problem for New Zealand. Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf were metronomically accurate and fearsomely fast in the powerplay, and Will Young and Tom Blundell are not natural aggressors. The two fell within two overs of each other after a sedate start.
Both were, to their credit, dismissed seeking boundaries their side desperately needed. Mohammad Wasim struck off his first ball, with Young spooning it high into the night sky for a straightforward catch, before Blundell failed to get elevation on a drive off Rauf, the ball heading straight to Iftikhar Ahmed in the covers.
The period of stagnation through the third-wicket stand that followed, between Daryl Mitchell and Tom Latham, was probably what ultimately did New Zealand’s chances. A total of 83 painstaking runs were scored at a rate under five, but the asking rate had climbed to around 8.50 by then. Usama Mir – who did his World Cup chances no harm with an excellent display deputising for Shadab Khan – drew Mitchell into a stroke that caused his downfall.
The stand between Latham and Mark Chapman, which followed, was New Zealand’s brightest passage, as Chapman dispensed with all conservatism. The two put on 55 in 43 balls with Chapman taking the lead, smashing Iftikhar and Agha Salman out of the attack with 34 in three overs.
But the fast bowlers returned, and Afridi cleaned up Latham yet again for a well-made, if less than explosive, 76-ball 60. Chapman continued to flay the bowling, but a quicker one from Mir saw his stumps knocked back for a 33-ball 46. Thereafter, New Zealand’s resistance melted away. Mir helped himself to a couple more wickets to register career-best figures of 4 for 43, and Pakistan secured a 102-run win.
Earlier, another Babar hundred helped Pakistan to a total that always looked well beyond New Zealand. Across an innings where he also became the quickest player to 5000 ODI runs, the batters – especially Babar and Salman – were in control for the most part on a flat pitch. However, New Zealand, spearheaded by Matt Henry, punctured Pakistan regularly enough to ensure the total wouldn’t completely get out of hand. Some late Mohammad Haris and Afridi fireworks ensured that the platform Pakistan’s middle order had set would lead to a big enough total.
Pakistan rung the changes in after sealing the series already, and Shan Masood – who replaced Imam-ul-Haq – guided Pakistan through the powerplay with characteristic ease after Henry removed Fakhar Zaman early with a similar delivery to the one that got him the previous game, the back-of-a-length ball miscued high into the air.
The innings continued to cruise on autopilot through a 50-run, ten-over stand between Masood and Babar, before sharp work behind the stumps from Blundell saw Masood fall to Ish Sodhi. With Pakistan’s reliance on the top order well-known, the fall of Mohammad Rizwan after a Henry direct-hit caught him short would’ve given Pakistan the wobbles. But in that moment of slight adversity, Salman rose magnificently.
Exquisite with the sweep and reverse sweep, as well as commanding in his use of footwork, Salman cranked through the gears to put New Zealand on the back foot again. With a straight six off Cole McConchie, he brought up a 40-ball half-century as well as the hundred partnership between him and Babar.
Babar had blended into the background but he still eased past 50, as he usually does in ODIs. By the time Henry pouched a stunning return catch to dismiss Salman, Babar was just 12 away from his century, and content to let Iftikhar lead.
Iftikhar assembled an entertaining cameo – 28 off 22 – before Babar tickled one through the off side to bring up his century in 113 balls. When Babar holed out to deep midwicket to give Ben Lister his first wicket on ODI debut, Pakistan had got stuck somewhat, with two overs to go and still not past 300.
Wasim and Shaheen remedied, plundering 38 off the final two overs, also making compelling cases to bat higher up. The four sixes and two fours between them meant they had done enough to break New Zealand’s spirits. In reality, Pakistan’s bowling demonstrated the Afridi-Wasim cameos merely added flourish to what was a near-guaranteed victory anyway.