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It might only be the group stage of the T20 World Cup, but Pakistan and New Zealand brought the fireworks in a hugely entertaining showdown on Wednesday morning.
In a thrilling contest defined by strike bowling and clutch batting, it was maligned Pakistan batsman Asif Ali who guided the 2009 tournament champions home with some powerful hitting late in the game.
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His knock of 27 not out was enough for Pakistan to secure a five wicket win before a vocal crowd of expats in Sharjah.
After bowlers Haris Rauf (4-22) and Shaheen Shah Afridi (1-21) helped restrict the Kiwis to 8-134, the Kiwis were able to fight back thanks to some stunning fielding from Devon Conway.
His diving effort to catch Mohammad Hafeez at wide long-off left the crowd with their jaws firmly fixed to the floor, and commentators absolutely in awe.
Indian cricketing legend Sunil Gavaskar was on commentary for the catch, and was impressed by the sheer amount of ground Conway had to cover, catching the ball outstretched after a full sprint to get to where it was dropping.
“Look at the ground he’s made and then he dives. Unbelievable," Gavaskar said.
Plenty of other fans were equally impressed on social media - including fellow Indian great Harbhajan Singh, who noted it was 'just an unreal catch' on Twitter.
— ICC (@ICC) October 26, 2021
— Harbhajan Turbanator (@harbhajan_singh) October 26, 2021
— Paul Johnson (@pjohnson_sports) October 26, 2021
— Edgar Kazibwe (@Edgarkazibwe) October 26, 2021
— Abhinav mukund (@mukundabhinav) October 26, 2021
Some of these catches in the World Cup so far have been ridiculous. Devon Conway 👏 #PAKvNZ
— Fynn Hudson-Prentice (@fynnhudson33) October 26, 2021
Hahaha, Conway that is absolutely absurd!
— Ben Jones (@benjonescricket) October 26, 2021
Pakistan appeared in trouble when they stumbled to 4-69 in the 12th over on Tuesday.
But in the end Pakistan cruised to victory, reaching 5-135 with eight balls to spare in a fine start to their bid for a second T20 World Cup title.
Mohammad Rizwan top scored with 33 while Shoaib Malik (26 not out) and Asif Ali (27 not out) guided 2009 champions Pakistan home with an unbroken 48-run stand.
"It's always good to win, we'll take this confidence forward in the tournament. The way Shaheen and Haris bowled was very impressive," Pakistan skipper Babar Azam said.
"I think we gave them 10 runs too many, but it's cricket and that happens.
"We lost wickets early, but I want to give credit to Shoaib and Asif."
Pakistan hang on to defeat New Zealand in T20 World Cup thriller
The clash was played against the backdrop of perceived bad blood between the sides after New Zealand abruptly abandoned a limited-overs tour of Pakistan last month citing a security alert.
England followed suit in a double blow.
But Pakistan, on a high after beating arch-rivals India in their Super 12 stage opener, channelled any lingering anger to seal a thrilling victory.
Babar kept faith with the XI that hammered India and his decision to bowl after winning the toss paid off as they restricted New Zealand to 1-42 in the powerplay.
Pakistan continued to apply pressure and Rauf took two wickets in three balls in the 18th over to ensure there were no late fireworks.
Opener Daryl Mitchell (27), skipper Kane Williamson (25) and Devon Conway (27) all got starts for New Zealand.
Pakistan's run chase was evenly poised until the 16th over at 5-98 but Tim Southee conceded 13 runs in the next as Asif smashed two sixes to turn the game on its head.
Then Malik struck a six and a four off Mitchell Santner to ensure Pakistan could complete the job in style.
"It's disappointing," Williamson said.
"Unfortunately we couldn't nail things towards the back end but we were up against a very good side in Pakistan."
Pakistan takes on Afghanistan on Friday while New Zealand faces a wounded India two days later.
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