In an irresistible spell of accurate fast bowling that embellished a compelling Pakistan performance, Umar Gul yesterday became the first bowler to take five wickets in a Twenty20 international. His figures of 5 for 6 in three overs against New Zealand all but assured his side victory.
They were chasing an even 100 to win after Gul's intervention and, to the delight of their fervent support, duly achieved much as they liked for the loss of four wickets with a massive 41 balls to spare. Super Eight Group F is now wide open and if New Zealand can regain their composure to defeat Sri Lanka and Ireland avoid inflicting more surprises there could be a three-way tie. But for emotional reasons Pakistan and Sri Lanka will have much justified neutral backing.
Much damage had already been inflicted on New Zealand by the time Umar entered the attack in the 13th over. The fact that a bowler as accomplished as him can be kept waiting until then merely shows the richness of Pakistan's talent. He ended any faint prospects of New Zealand making a fist of it. They had lost crucial early wickets and at the start of Umar's first over they were 72 for 4. By its end they were 74 for 6 with nowhere left to go.
The first of his wickets came courtesy of a breathtaking catch by Shahid Afridi, who ran some 30 yards back from mid-on to hold on to Scott Styris's steepling drive two yards from the boundary rope. There were judges of sound mind who swore that it was the best catch they had ever seen.
On returning three overs later, Gul took three more wickets in his next two overs, the first two with yorkers that were straight, fast and unplayable. New Zealand, who had shed three wickets in the first six overs in the powerplay, were simply overwhelmed.
Dismissed for 99, all they could reasonably expect was to limit the scale of their defeat. But if there is a team that should be wished well in the World Twenty20 it is Pakistan. They have, perforce, become the wandering minstrels of cricket. No side will play them in their own country and they have had a wretched time lately.
They played no Tests anywhere in 2008 and when they resumed earlier this year, terrorists attacked the Sri Lanka team coach on the way to the ground in Lahore. The match was abandoned and the game in the country was once more in disarray. Somehow they keep going but they do much more than that by continuing to produce cricketers of joyous talent.
None of contemporary vintage has been much more joyous than Abdul Razzaq, who made his return to the international side yesterday after a gap of two years caused by his links with the outlawed Indian Cricket League. Having terminated his contract, the Pakistan Cricket Board absolved him and called him up for the tournament on Thursday to replace the injured Yasir Arafat.
Razzaq struck with his third ball back as Brendon McCullum steered to point. The veteran shared the new ball with 17-year-old Mohammad Amir, who also made an early incision.
After Pakistan lost to England, they looked slightly rudderless and captain Younus Khan smiled and said it was a fun game. It was a whole lot of fun yesterday but Pakistan are deadly serious contenders in this competition.