Pakistan were victorious over New Zealand this morning in Pallekele but the match provided arguably the most gripping contest in the World T20 tournament to date.
The New Zealanders had themselves to blame with a sloppy fielding performance but righted those wrongs with a plucky chase using one of their less conventional batting line-ups in recent times.
Their 164 for nine came up 13 runs short of Pakistan's 177 for six. Tomorrow's result between Pakistan and Bangladesh will determine whether New Zealand progress to the Super Eight stage. All five T20 internationals at this ground have been won by the team batting first.
Pakistan made the most of a batting pitch WG Grace would have been proud of. It did a passable imitation of tarseal. No. 3 batsmen Nasir Jamshed led the way. In just his fourth T20 international the 22-year-old left-hander had a stroke for every delivery on his way to 56 runs off 35 balls. He eased the ball off his pads, drove through the covers and, when late call-up Adam Milne dropped short, the sweet spot of Jamshed's bat was there to hook him for six.
His second-wicket partnership of 76 with captain Mohammad Hafeez was the heart of the Pakistan total. Hafeez should have been caught by Ross Taylor in a regulation slip catch on the third ball of the innings from Kyle Mills. Taylor looked up at Mills in disbelief; Mills' eyebrows knitted into an almighty frown. It was a surprise error from the captain who has the most catches (27) in T20 internationals. The mistake cost New Zealand 43 runs.
Mills was again unfortunate when Rob Nicol palmed a flat pull shot over the boundary for six from Jamshed. It was a ground-swallowing moment. Jamshed was on 34 at the time; the mistake penalised New Zealand a further 22 runs.
New Zealand errors were regular. They included misfields, overthrows and harbour bridges over the ball. Their position looked ominous at the end of the 13th over with Pakistan 118 for one (a run rate of 9.07). Yet they dragged themselves back. Cue three wickets in 13 balls, one each to James Franklin, Jacob Oram and Daniel Vettori.
New Zealand assembled a bizarre batting line-up to combat the Pakistanis with Nicol and Kane Williamson opening, Vettori at no. 4 and Oram at no. 5. The problem with the chase lay in batsmen getting starts but failing to go on. Nicol with 33 and Brendon McCullum with 31 promised most.
Nicol's lofted off drives were a treat while McCullum could be considered unlucky; he appeared to play the ball onto his boot off Umar Gul. It ballooned and came down with just enough momentum to dislodge a bail. Queen's Under Pressure pumped appropriately from the PA system; given McCullum's recent form it was the turning point which led to defeat.
Williamson and Nicol did well opening in place of the injured Martin Guptill. They made 53 runs in 6.3 overs - a run rate of 8.15. However, both benefited from not having to face the wrath of Shahid Afridi or Saeed Ajmal, two of the premier spinners in the game. Afridi tore out Nicol's off stump in his first over and Ajmal finished with the best figures of the match: four wickets for 30 runs.
Andrew Alderson flew to the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka courtesy of Emirates Airline (www.emirates.com/nz).