Taking adversity by the horns

Sri Lanka, England, Pakistan. The New Zealand hit-list was impressive as the team stormed into the final. S. DINAKAR reports.

Cricket is a lot about how a side overcomes adversity. And New Zealand’s dream run in the ICC Champions Trophy is a lot about the triumph of the spirit. The side lost the services of key all-rounder Jacob Oram before the tournament began. Aggressive opener Jesse Ryder strained his groin in the second game to be ruled out of the tournament and paceman Darryl Tuffey, impressive till that point, broke his hand before the crucial last league game against England.

Ahead of the semifinal, all-rounder Grant Elliott had broken his thumb. These injuries would have tested the resolve of most sides. In New Zealand’s case, it brought the side together; adversity can be a great binding force. In the event, Elliott’s match-winning unbeaten 75 — the batsman endured the injury — reflected the side’s spirit.

In another major upset, New Zealand defeated the talented Pakistan by five wickets with 13 deliveries to spare. After ambushing Sri Lanka and England at the Wanderers, the Kiwis had now scalped Pakistan.

The team which won the ICC Spirit of Cricket award was in the Champions Trophy final. Nice guys do not always finish last. And Daniel Vettori emerged as a captain’s captain. He had his finger on the pulse of the game and was intelligent with his response.

Tactically, New Zealand was slick. When Vettori and Elliott came together, the match was in the balance. The Kiwis — pursuing 234 — were 126 for four in the 30th over. But the right-left combination of Elliott and Vettori — the skipper wisely promoted himself — forced the Pakistani bowlers to switch their line constantly.

The Kiwis waited, consolidated and then cut loose with wickets in hand. They were cool and nerveless during the pursuit. Vettori and Elliott did not panic in the face of some vociferous appealing and an asking rate that gradually climbed.

The two carefully picked their moment to strike out. The batting Power Play — it was taken in the 43rd over with the score at 175 for four — settled the issue. The two consistently pierced the infield, and lofted the ball into the vast empty areas.

The 104-run stand for the fifth wicket between Elliott (75 not out, 103b, 5x4, 1x6) and Vettori (41, 42b, 3x4) was as much about clever batting as audacious strokeplay. Pakistan would look back on an opportunity missed when Elliott (on 42) was put down at short cover by skipper Younus Khan. The bowler to suffer, left-arm paceman Mohammed Aamer, looked into the night sky in anguish.

Earlier, leg-spinner Shahid Afridi had struck a major blow for Pakistan when he bowled a dangerous looking Ross Taylor (38) with a delivery that held its line; Taylor played for the turn and was soon walking back.

Brendon McCullum had fired at the start, pulling Aamer over mid-wicket for a rousing six. Soon, McCullum flayed at a full-length delivery outside off-stump and Afridi stepped back to hold a difficult catch at deep cover.

Opener Aaron Redmond (31) appeared promising before he gave a return catch to off-spinner Saeed Ajmal. Pakistan cut deeper into the Kiwi line-up before running into a barrier in the form of Elliott — he cut and pulled exceptionally well — and Vettori.

Earlier, a cheeky unbeaten partnership of 35 in 34 balls between the last pair, Aamer and Ajmal, took Pakistan to 233 for nine. The Kiwi bowlers jolted Pakistan early. Younus Khan’s men, after the skipper had opted to bat, were 86 for four in the 21st over before Mohammad Yousuf and Umar Akmal — the two added 80 — revived the innings.

Yousuf (45, 78b, 3x4) was elegant and refined in his methods. He off-drove with balance and placement and whipped off his legs with the kind of fluency that comes naturally to sub-continental batsmen. He looked good for more before playing on to paceman Kyle Mills.

The strokeful Umar (55, 62b, 7x4) — the lad is quick of mind and feet — drove the pacemen with panache off either foot. He also used the crease well while coping with Vettori, to force the ball between third man and cover point. In a stressful situation of a big game, he displayed wonderful temperament. Umar was wrongly adjudged leg-before to Vettori by umpire Simon Taufel. Replays showed the bat was involved.

Pakistan lost ground subsequently with New Zealand coming back hard. The batting Power Play was delayed by Younus. The Kiwis — their bowling was disciplined and fielding sharp — made the Pakistanis fight for every run.

The pitch though did not offer the pacemen as much off the seam as in the earlier games. There was pace and bounce, but no appreciable deviation for the quicker bowlers.

Imran Nazir sparked at the start before Shane Bond removed him with a brute of a short-pitched delivery. Bond was sharp and moved the ball away from the off-stump. And the odd short-ball climbed into the batsman.

The lanky Ian Butler had Kamran Akmal picked up at sweeper cover. Butler was impressive. He hit the deck from a high-arm action, kept the ball around off-stump and scalped four batsmen. The in-form Shoaib Malik was snared in the corridor by Butler.

Skipper Vettori maintained the heat on the Pakistani batsmen with his tight left-arm spin. Younus succumbed to Vettori’s extra bounce as he pushed forward to a delivery on the off-stump. It was Vettori’s day at the Wanderers; one Younus would want to forget soon.

THE SCORES Second semifinal

Pakistan: I. Nazir c Taylor b Bond 28; K. Akmal c Redmond b Butler 24; S. Malik c Taylor b Butler 2; Younis Khan c Taylor b Vettori 15; M. Yousuf b Mills 45; U. Akmal lbw b Vettori 55; S. Afridi c McCullum b Butler 4; Naved-ul-Hasan c Guptill b Vettori 8; U. Gul c Broom b Butler 6; M. Aamer (not out) 19; S. Ajmal (not out) 14; Extras (lb-6, w-5, nb-2) 13. Total (for nine wkts., in 50 overs) 233.

Fall of wickets: 1-46, 2-61, 3-69, 4-86, 5-166, 6-181, 7-183, 8-192, 9-198.

New Zealand bowling: Mills 10-0-46-1; Bond 10-1-54-1; Butler 10-0-44-4; Franklin 8-0-33-0; Vettori 10-2-43-3; Elliott 2-0-7-0.

New Zealand: B. McCullum c Afridi b Aamer 17; A. Redmond c & b Ajmal 31; M. Guptill c Naved b Gul 11; R. Taylor b Afridi 38; G. Elliott (not out) 75; D. Vettori st. K. Akmal b Ajmal 41; N. Broom (not out) 3; Extras (b-2, lb-6, w-6, nb-4) 18. Total (for five wkts., in 47.5 overs) 234.

Fall of wickets: 1-22, 2-43, 3-71, 4-126, 5-230.

Pakistan bowling: Aamer 10-2-32-1; Naved-ul-Hasan 8-0-57-0; Gul 8.5-0-48-1; Ajmal 8-0-39-2; Afridi 10-0-41-1; Malik 3-0-9-0.