Little-known Haris Sohail and experienced Shahid Afridi hit splendid half centuries to lead Pakistan to a three-wicket win over New Zealand in the first one-day international on Monday.
Sohail, playing in his only fifth ODI, made a career-best unbeaten 85 off 109 balls and Afridi scored 61 off 51 balls to carry Pakistan to 250-7 after New Zealand had reduced the home team to 124-6.
Earlier, Ross Taylor became the first New Zealander to score three successive limited-over centuries by scoring an unbeaten 105 off 135 balls to anchor the Kiwis to 246-7.
“The way Haris and Shahid played, it was really a wonderful performance,” Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq said. “We are looking to try different things because this is the last series before the World Cup and we will try more things in coming games.”
Sohail also fulfilled the fifth bowler spot with a tidy 10-over spell of 0-39 after Pakistan went with only four specialist bowlers as Mohammad Hafeez had been suspended by the ICC due to an illegal bowling action.
The left-handed Sohail turned the tables on the Kiwis with a magnificent 110-run seventh wicket stand with Afridi, who scored his first half century in the last 30 ODIs.
“I think on the back of Ross’ superb knock we had a reasonable total on the board, but we didn’t do the job well with the ball,” New Zealand captain Kane Williamson said. “Pakistan played extremely well and deserved to win.”
Daniel Vettori (2-40) had strangled Pakistan’s top order with the key wickets of Ahmed Shehzad and Younis Khan before taking a stunning left-handed diving catch at mid on to dismiss Misbah as Pakistan slipped to 86-5.
Pakistan also lost Sarfraz Ahmed after a brisk 26 off 19 balls before Afridi and Sohail led a gallant fightback with some determined batting and took the game away from New Zealand with better than run-a-ball century stand.
Afridi hit seven fours and a six before he was run out with Pakistan needing 13 off as many deliveries.
Sohail rightly finished off the game by smashing James Neesham to fine leg for his fifth boundary of the innings which also featured a six.
Taylor, who scored back to back ODI centuries at home against India in January, held the innings together as Kiwis struggled at 111-5 midway through the innings after being put in to bat.
He shared a quickfire 58-run seventh wicket stand with Vettori (27) off 48 balls after putting the innings back on track with a 44-run partnership alongside Luke Ronchi.
Fast bowler Mohammad Irfan did the early damage by claiming two early wickets and then got rid of dangerman Ronchi for 23 to finish with 3-57.
Taylor completed his half century off 86 balls and kept the scoreboard rotating with singles and twos before cutting lose in the last 10 overs.
Ronchi fell to a brilliant running catch by Younis Khan at midwicket before Vettori hit three fours in his rapid 27 to give the innings acceleration.
Taylor completed his flawless century in the last over and then ended the innings with a cracking cover drive off Riaz’s last ball for his eighth boundary of the innings that also featured innings only six off Umar Gul over midwicket.
Pakistan’s Zaheer Abbas and Saeed Anwar alongside South Africa’s Herschelle Gibbs, AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock are the others who have scored three successive centuries in ODIs.
The second game of the five-match series will be played at Sharjah on Friday.