Abu Dhabi, November 1: Mohammad Hafeez played a key role with bat and ball as Pakistan pulled things back superbly to secure a slender two-run victory over New Zealand in the first of three Twenty20s in the United Arab Emirates.
The Black Caps, playing for the first time since April, looked to have taken charge of their maiden contest under new head coach Gary Stead, reaching 50 without loss inside six overs after Pakistan had battled their way to 148-6 on a typically slow surface in Abu Dhabi.
However, New Zealand's progress was curtailed dramatically in the middle overs as spinners Hafeez (0-13 from three overs), Shadab Khan (1-26 from four) and Imad Wasim (1-26 from four) excelled.
Kane Williamson's tourists ultimately fell narrowly short of their target on 146-6, Ross Taylor (42 not out) striking a four from the final delivery when a six was needed to level the scores.
The result was harsh on Taylor and New Zealand opener Colin Munro, who top-scored with 58 off 42 deliveries and was the only man to contribute more runs than Hafeez (45 off 36).
A third-wicket partnership of 67 between Hafeez and Asif Ali (24) was key to Pakistan recovering from the loss of two early wickets, while skipper Sarfraz Ahmed also chipped in with 34 off 26 deliveries.
New Zealand were magnificent in the field, Tim Southee, Glenn Phillips and Corey Anderson all pulling off wonderful catches prior to the latter running out Shoaib Malik with a direct hit.
The boys are on 🔥🔥🔥 in the field!— BLACKCAPS (@BLACKCAPS) 31 October 2018
Corey Anderson now with an excellent running catch at long-off, backing up Phillips & Southee catches earlier. Pakistan 121-5, 14 balls left in innings #PAKvNZ pic.twitter.com/YpaGE7DrNY
However, a late drop from Ish Sodhi proved costly as Imad Wasim capitalised on his let-off to hit the last two balls of the innings for four and six respectively, lifting Pakistan to a handy total.
When Munro moved into top gear with a trio of maximums early in the reply, the Black Caps were well placed to hunt down their target.
Pakistan soon pegged back their opponents, though, and Hasan Ali (3-35) claimed two wickets in the penultimate over to leave 17 needed off the last, a requirement that proved just beyond New Zealand despite an expensive final over from Shaheen Afridi.