New Zealand feeling at home in Sharjah after winning second ODI over Pakistan

Shahid Afridi's 14-ball 27 not enough to carry Pakistan to 2-0 lead in five-match ODI series
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, right, plays a shot as Pakistani wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed looks on during the second one-day international cricket match at the Sharjah cricket stadium on December 12, 2014. Aamir Qureshi / AFP
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, right, plays a shot as Pakistani wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed looks on during the second one-day international cricket match at the Sharjah cricket stadium on December 12, 2014. Aamir Qureshi / AFP

SHARJAH // That old theory about Sharjah Cricket Stadium being a stronghold for Pakistan needs an update. This is now Fortress New Zealand.

The Black Caps had never won a one-day international against Pakistan at the UAE’s oldest cricket venue in 10 attempts before now. Neither had they won a Test before last month.

In the space of a couple of weeks, they have corrected both those blemishes. After one of the great Test successes in their history, they followed up on Friday with a series-levelling win in the second one-day international, chasing down Pakistan’s total of 252 with 24 balls to spare.

They did it via excellence from some of their less-heralded players. Matt Henry took four wickets, then Anton Devcich hit his first ODI half-century in the run chase.

Given the personnel they have outside this XI – Brendon McCullum, Tim Southee and Martin Guptill, to name three – New Zealand look a team to be feared at their home World Cup next year.

That said, they will probably still be talked about in hushed tones, and as “dark horses”. Such is always the way for them.

New Zealand are supposed to be a tough sell. Ahead of this winter’s matches in the UAE, the Pakistan Cricket Board had to bundle the commercial rights for both the Australia and New Zealand series together in order to attract sponsors.

The fervour this fixture attracted made a joke of that, though.

More people filed through the gates than for any of the sold-out Indian Premier League matches that were played at this ground earlier in the year. It was Sharjah at its best.

A crowd of supporters surged at the main gates early in the afternoon, prompting police intervention and leaving some bemused ticket-holders wondering if they were going to get in at all. To the naked eye, the ground certainly appeared to be over capacity.

There are a variety of factors behind the heavy spectator traffic. The fact it was Friday was the most obvious, but more pertinently this has been a winning Pakistan team.

Their success in the opening game in Dubai had been thrilling, with only three deliveries to spare, and had Shahid Afridi at its centre.

Even though he has been coming here as an international cricketer for 18 years, Afridi remains the No 1 headline act in this part of the world.

Simply his arrival at the crease is enough to make the ground rumble because of spectator excitement. When he hit each of his three sixes, the Sharjah crowd created a mini-sonic boom of their own.

His 14-ball 27 was typical Afridi: muscular, showy, hyperactive, and brief. But it was just what Pakistan needed at the time, and it helped inch them to a competitive total.

He also took two New Zealand wickets, while Haris Sohail managed three.

Their combined efforts could not halt the New Zealanders, though, with stand-in captain Kane Williamson guiding the tourists over the winning line.

pradley@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 13, 2014 04:00 AM

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