A fighting half-century by Babar Azam went in vain as Pakistan lost to New Zealand by 46 runs in the first T20I of the five-match series, played at Eden Park in Auckland. Batting first, New Zealand posted a mammoth total of 226-8 on the board. In reply, Pakistan were bowled out for 180 in 18 overs.

After opting to bowl first, Shaheen Shah Afridi struck on the second ball of the opening over to take out Devon Conway for a golden duck. His fellow opening batter, Finn Allen (34, 15b, 3x4s, 3x6s), was caught by Aamir Jamal to award Abbas Afridi his maiden T20I wicket, bringing the opposition to 50-2 inside five overs.

An explosive third-wicket partnership between Kane Williamson and Daryl Mitchell, yielding 78 runs, brought momentum to New Zealand’s innings until it was cut short by Abbas who dismissed Williamson. The New Zealand skipper walked back after scoring his 18th half-century (57, 42b, 9x4s) in the format.

Mitchell went on to complete his half-century, hitting a fiery 27-ball-61 including four boundaries and as many maximums. For his impressive batting performance, Mitchell was adjudged player of the match as well. He eventually fell to Shaheen, who brought himself back into the attack in the 17th over. Mark Chapman (26, 11b, 2x4s, 2x6s) chipped in with some quick runs as well to take the total over the 200-run mark.

Abbas, on debut, was the pick of the bowlers for Pakistan, grabbing three wickets at the expense of 34 runs. Shaheen too bagged three scalps. Right-arm pacer Haris Rauf returned with two wickets as well.

Left-handed opening batter Saim Ayub’s 8-ball-27, including two fours and three sixes, gave Pakistan a flying start. His stay on the crease was cut short courtesy of a prompt run-out by Adam Milne. Mohammad Rizwan (25, 14b, 2x4s, 2x6s) was the next batter to walk back after he was caught by Conway off Tim Southee’s bowling as Pakistan were brought to 63-2 inside the powerplay.

Fakhar Zaman, the fourth batter in, fell victim to Ish Sodhi after a swift 15 from 10, including a four and a six. Iftikhar Ahmed contributed 24 from 17, including one four and two sixes, before he was caught by Sodhi on Southee’s bowling.

Milne struck twice in one over to remove Azam Khan and Shaheen as trouble deepened for the visitors. In the subsequent over, right-arm pacer Ben Sears grabbed the prized wicket of Babar Azam, who departed after a valiant half-century (57, 35b, 6x4s, 2x6s).

Southee removed Abbas in the 18th over to complete 150 wickets in the format – the most by any bowler in the history of T20Is. In the same over, he got his fourth wicket of the day to dismiss Pakistan for 180.

Southee was supported by pacers Sears and Milne – who accounted for two wickets each – and leg-spinner Sodhi, who picked up one wicket as well.

The second T20I between Pakistan and New Zealand will be played on 14 January 2024 in Seddon Park, Hamilton. The first ball is expected to be bowled at 1110 PKT with the toss expected to take place at 1040 PKT.

Scores in brief:

New Zealand won by 46 runs

New Zealand 226-8, 20 overs (Daryl Mitchell 61, Kane Williamson 57, Finn Allen 34; Abbas Afridi 3-34, Shaheen Shah Afridi 3-46, Haris Rauf 2-34)

Pakistan 180 all out, 18 overs (Babar Azam 57, Saim Ayub 27, Mohammad Rizwan 25, Iftikhar Ahmed 24; Tim Southee 4-25, Ben Sears 2-42, Adam Milne 2-50, Ish Sodhi 1-33)

Player of the match – Daryl Mitchell (New Zealand)