To think this T20 World Cup is supposedly being played on neutral soil. That’s a laugh! Two days after planting their flag in Dubai and owning the place for one glorious night, Pakistan have stormed Sharjah, too.
As is their wont, New Zealand put up a fight. The fact they could even hear themselves think, let alone push Pakistan close, was an achievement amid the series of sonic booms emitted by Pakistan’s supporters at the UAE's oldest cricket venue.
But ultimately they were unable to repel the green tide washing over the first week of the Super 12. Pakistan were five-wicket winners on another night of triumph for Babar Azam’s thrilling team.
This fixture would have been no more raucous if it had been played in Rawalpindi or Karachi.
All 12,000 available tickets were sold – which is 80 per cent of the capacity of Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
By midway through the second innings, it was difficult to spot a spare blue seat. The gangways were filled.
Outside, supporters lined the street in front of the Invest Bank and the hypermarket, watching the scoreboard count down, and getting their occasional fill of a highlight on the bigscreen. Residents crammed their balconies. The roof of the adjacent apartment block was filled to its own capacity.
When the gates had opened two hours before the start of play, scores of supporters started to pour in.
There was a reason they all wanted to be in place early. Yes, everyone was still riding a wave of euphoria from two nights earlier, following that historic win over India, up the E-311 in Dubai.
But more precisely, no one wanted to miss the headline act: The Shaheen Afridi First Over.
Unlike Rohit Sharma for India, Martin Guptill was able to survive the first six exocets Shaheen sent down.
No better than that, though. The first over of the game was a maiden, which took the breath away.
Sharjah has spent the best part of three decades cheering an S Afridi to the echo. On the evidence of this, the new model is every bit as popular as his namesake Shahid.
By the end of the New Zealand innings, he had one for 21. Every ball of it had thrilled the packed crowd.
And yet, as an indication of the fast bowling riches available to Pakistan, he was upstaged by another quick.
Haris Rauf took 4-22. This from a cricketer who had no pro contract for cricket the last time there was a T20 World Cup, who was still playing tape-ball before being spotted at a talent hunt by the Lahore Qalandars.
Rauf fired out Guptill, Devon Conway, Glenn Phillips, and Mitchell Santner, who fell to the last ball of the innings as New Zealand closed on 134-8.
At the start of the sixth over of Pakistan’s reply, the ground was finally stunned into a disbelieving silence. Babar Azam was out. It was not even a drill. There was no resorting to DRS. His stumps had been flattened by Tim Southee.
For the first time in the 2021 T20 World Cup, Pakistan had lost a wicket. Indeed, the chase was not without its troubles, against a courageous and highly-skilled bowling attack, on a low wicket which makes chasing tough at the best of times.
Mohammed Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman were both trapped lbw to the leg spin of Ish Sodhi. Mohammed Hafeez fell to an extraordinary diving boundary catch by Conway.
When Imad Wasim was struck on the leg in front of the stumps by Trent Boult, it seemed as though New Zealand were actually going to ruin the party.
Not so. Asif Ali (27 not out off 12) hit three balls over the rope – either side of receiving treatment after being struck in the face by a short ball from Tim Southee.
And he clinched it when he and Shoaib Malik (26 not out) scurried a two to the offside boundary to make it two from two for Pakistan.