Cricket: Facing up to the problem of Afridi

By David Leggat

Wouldn't life be dull if every problem was solved, every piece fitting nicely into a puzzle, with nothing to fret over.

So the New Zealand cricket team should be a hive of activity over the next 24 hours as they pick themselves up after an old-fashioned duffing from Pakistan in their third ODI in Christchurch.

The fourth game is in Napier tomorrow.

Pakistan seemed ripe for the taking at Christchurch on a blustery, unpleasant day, 1-0 down and apparently on the back foot.

Instead they won by 43 runs, outbatting New Zealand and giving them a lesson in the keys to successful fast-medium bowling in the closing overs of one-day cricket.

It is the tourists who now have the momentum.

Saturday was New Zealand's 12th loss in their last 13 completed ODIs. Their drawing board is getting a decent workout this summer.

New Zealand's bowling was tidy for a time, although whoever thought it a good idea to have their quickest seamer, Hamish Bennett, pushing up into a gusting southerly wind needs to do a rapid recalibration of his tactical plan book.

Opener Mohammad Hafeez did a fine job for Pakistan, with his maiden ODI century. Even so, New Zealand seemed to have a reasonable hold on the game until the last 10 overs.

At that point, captain Shahid Afridi, with little Umar Akmal as his lieutenant, committed cricketing GBH on New Zealand's bowlers.

The pair were largely responsible for the carnage that followed as Pakistan carved 126 off the final 10 overs to push the total to 293 for seven.

Afridi is a limited-overs batting enforcer.

He's got form for the sort of display he put on at AMI Stadium, but it's been patchy rather than reliable in recent times.

Afridi has a terrific eye, has probably not played a genuine forward defensive stroke in years, and clearly does not have the patience for anything longer than 50 overs.

Still, 25 balls were all he needed to dash off a match-deciding 65 - five sixes and five fours - and it was not a period for the seamers to savour.

Kyle Mills' last three overs cost 42, Tim Southee's last four went for 38, Bennett's last three cost 30, while Jacob Oram went at six an over too.

Luke Woodcock's left-arm spin was tidy on ODI debut and deserved a wicket when Brendon McCullum badly fluffed a stumping off Misbah-ul-Haq.

Indeed McCullum, one sharp reverse angle catch to dismiss Afridi aside, had a day to forget.

The experiment of playing him in the middle order did not last long, run out by a direct hit from gully by Akmal, responding to an Oram call. The run was not on and McCullum was livid.

Earlier Martin Guptill and Jamie How got off to a decent start before progress slowed through the middle stages. From the 15th over until the start of the 34th, Scott Styris and Kane Williamson managed a solitary boundary between them.

Styris' dismissal, caught at deep mid-wicket, was a key moment.

The target had just touched eight an over but there were two good batsmen well set, and hitters with the pads on. The game was still on. Williamson was out shortly after and that was that.

Some of New Zealand's running between the wickets was plain daft. They were also hopeless outmatched against Pakistan's seamers, whose proficiency at delivering well-disguised slower balls in particular was superb.

Time and again the New Zealand late order batsmen hopelessly swung and missed against the relentlessly impressive Umar Gul, awkward left-armer Sohail Tanvir and Wahab Riaz.

So what with the bowling in the latter stages of the Pakistani plunder, the naivety of the running between the wickets, and coping with the demands of thoughtful bowling, there's much to work on.

But the lingering memory for the meagre Christchurch crowd will remain Afridi's hitting.

"It was pretty special, wasn't it," Woodcock said yesterday.

"He batted brilliantly. That got them momentum going into their bowling."

FASTEST ODI 50S

* The fastest 50 is 17 balls, by Sri Lankan Sanath Jayasuriya against Pakistan in Singapore in 1996.

* Of the 20 quickest half centuries, Shahid Afridi is responsible for six of them, more than any other player, including the third and fourth fastest.

* Four New Zealand batsmen are in that group - Brendon McCullum (twice), Ross Taylor, Lance Cairns and Craig McMillan.

- NZ Herald

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