Ajaz Patel made an impact in his first ever Test. New Zealand won by just 4 runs……
Thirty-year-old Ajaz Patel could not have dreamt of a better way to announce himself in Test cricket. He became only the ninth player from New Zealand to take a 5-wicket haul on Test debut and to add the icing on the cake, he was named the man of the match for helping his side scrape through by just 4 runs. Starting off as a fast bowler in his initial days, Ajaz turned to spin only after he turned 21. Standing at 5 feet 6 inches, Ajaz felt that he had to make certain changes if he had to make it to the next level. Turning to a slow left-arm bowler from a left-arm fast was one of them and as it turns out, it could perhaps be the best decision he has ever taken in his career.
A consistent performer for Central Districts in the domestic set-up, it was only a matter of time before his name would be included in the New Zealand side. With Ish Sodhi and Todd Astle already in the reckoning, New Zealand would have looked at a third spin bowling option, given the conditions in the UAE. After making his debut in the T20Is, Ajaz was given his Test debut against Pakistan at Abu Dhabi. Pakistan have a good record in their adopted home, UAE. They had lost just 8 out of their 32 Tests, which includes just 2 losses in 13 series played, with the most recent coming against Sri Lanka last year. It is needless to say that Pakistan are a force to be reckoned with in the UAE.
It was a tale of collapses. It was New Zealand, who first got bundled out for just 153 in their first innings. Then, Pakistan from 174 for 4 got bowled out for just 227, taking a crucial 74-run lead. When New Zealand took the field in their second innings, they would have had a lead of about 250 to 300 in mind, but it was not going to be easy. However, it was still a good wicket to bat on. Henry Nicholls (55) and BJ Watling (59) added 112 for the fifth wicket but once Nicholls was dismissed, New Zealand added just 29 more runs and lost 5 wickets along the way.
Chasing in the fourth innings can never be easy, regardless of which side you are. But Pakistan had the momentum going into bat and also got off to a steady start from their openers. After being reduced to 48 for 3, Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali steadied the ship with an 82-run stand for the fourth wicket. Neil Wagner got rid of Shafiq just before lunch and that is when the collapse began. Pakistan needed someone to hang around with Azhar to take them home, but instead, they got out playing poor shots.
New Zealand kept up the pressure. The last couple of hours saw just Ajaz and Wagner bowl in tandem. They bowled nagging lines and troubled the batsmen at every possible opportunity. Kane Williamson decided to hand the ball to a debutante rather than a more established spinner Sodhi. While Ajaz bowled wonderful finger spin, it was his arm-ball that was a tad difficult to read. Many times the batsmen did not pick it and got wrapped on the pads or got beaten.
Having picked up 135 Plunket Shield wickets in the last three seasons, the inclusion of Ajaz in the Test team was a no-brainer. In fact, Ajaz received a call from selector Gavin Larsen when he was having dinner with his family – some 30 of them – which included his mother, father, and his younger sisters. Recalling that moment, Ajaz said, “After dinner, I announced it to the family and it was amazing, the whole house went ballistic, everyone started cheering and applauding. It was a madhouse for a minute and I was worried the neighbours might complain.
“We’re a close-knit family and the amount of support I’ve had… I owe it to all of them and it was nice to share it with them and see how pleased they were,” he said. according to stuff.co.nz.
It is never easy to change from a fast bowler to a spinner, but Ajaz credits former Black Caps player Dipak Patel for helping him ease into this transformation. Ajaz switched to spin bowling in the middle of a match when he played for Suburbs New Lynn in Auckland. That paid dividends as he managed to pick up more wickets with spin than fast bowling. He has not looked back ever since.
Against Pakistan, Ajaz bowled just at the right pace and gave the ball ample flight as he deceived every batsman he bowled to. At 30, many teams would not have considered giving international debuts to a player. But New Zealand not just gave Ajaz Patel an international debut, but have found themselves a new match-winner. Hopefully, he can produce many such performances in the near future.