New Zealand’s backup cast fired with bat and ball against Pakistan in a topsy-turvy one-day cricket international that sent a Basin Reserve full house home with a smile on Monday.
The Black Caps won by 70 runs, and with a dire weather forecast for game two in Napier on Thursday they already look in the box seat for a third successive ODI series victory over Pakistan.
The Basin hadn’t hosted an ODI in nearly 11 years and this wasn’t your conventional match, either, before a sold out crowd of 6192. The bulk of New Zealand’s total of 280-8 came from tailenders Mitchell Santner (48 off 63), Matt Henry (48 not out off 30) and Mitchell McClenaghan (31 off 18) before he was felled by an Anwar Ali bouncer from the penultimate ball.
In his fifth ODI innings, Henry Nicholls offered some stern resistance as wickets tumbled around him.
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It looked nasty as it snuck behind his helmet grille and there was genuine concern before McClenaghan leapt to his feet and walked off, retired hurt. He received stitches near his left eye and was taken to hospital for further assessment. Without him, Adam Milne (not selected) and Tim Southee (injured) it was a makeshift Black Caps attack but allrounder Grant Elliott stepped up again to snare 3-43 as Pakistan were dismissed for 210 in the 46th over.
Pace spearhead Trent Boult, newly named the world’s top-ranked ODI bowler, polished it off with his 50th wicket in his 29th ODI, and ended with 4-40.
He’s had a lean time with the bat, but Elliott’s been a revelation with his medium pace this summer for New Zealand with 12 wickets at 10.5. On in the sixth over, he settled on an impeccable line and varied his pace to remove openers Azhar Ali and Ahmed Shehzad to false strokes.
Much like the New Zealand top order, Pakistan’s batsmen without the injured veteran Shoaib Malik heaved it away. The Black Caps caught brilliantly again, a feature of their recent wins.
Captain Kane Williamson brought himself on and enticed a false shot from Mohammad Hafeez (42) to the boundary rider and 21-year-old Babar Azam looked classy in his maiden half-century. He was well set on 62 but, like his older, wiser team-mates offered some charity as he picked out Black Caps topscorer Henry Nicholls on the mid-wicket boundary.
New Zealand did remarkably well with the bat after they lost the toss and were hurled against the ropes at 99-6. Young Nicholls (82 off 111 balls) showed maturity and patience before Henry and McClenaghan went ballistic, clouting six sixes between them in a ninth wicket stand of 73 off 5.3 overs.
A cracker Basin pitch had something for everyone, and the steep bounce and Pakistan’s lively, left-arm-heavy pace attack proved a handful. It was largely poor from the Black Caps batsmen as the 2.16m Mohammad Irfan and Mohammad Amir dug it in. Martin Guptill and Tom Latham were out hooking; Williamson and Elliott bowled through the gate by ones that nipped back from Anwar Ali. Amir (3-28) was the pick before limping off with a sore shin, received earlier when he stopped a blistering Santner drive.
Coming off Twenty20 cricket, it showed. Batsmen were impatient or went too hard at the ball too early. Wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi’s waft on five was painful as he takes a week’s rest, and with BJ Watling coming in for Napier and Auckland the incumbent is under increasing pressure.
In his fifth ODI knock, Nicholls showed impeccable timing to rescue the innings and thrust his hand up for a test berth. The 24-year-old is an even shorter-priced favourite to slot into the test middle order, perhaps as early as February 12 against Australia at the same venue if Ross Taylor’s side strain doesn’t heal in time.
He was confident against the short ball and picked the gaps after surviving a bad dropped catch on 15, by Mohammad Hafeez at slip.
Nicholls and Santner – who topped his highest ODI score of 44 – took advantage of a period of innocuous spin to add a vital 79. In 20 previous ODIs Henry’s highest score was 20 not out but he’d shown glimpses of his hitting power. His unbeaten 48 off 30 balls included four sixes – one of which sailed out of the ground – and brought a dozing crowd to their feet.