“However, when the moment to rise to the occasion a final time arrived in the series, all we got in return was a shoddy display of technique and temperament as they ended up conceding an away series win against New Zealand after 49 long years”
Cricket is a funny game. Just when I had gathered around details and was well on route to establish the potential that cricketers from both New Zealand and Pakistan contained, after a neck-to-neck challenge on the first three days of the third Test, the game opened up wider possibilities as we first saw an assured Kane Williamson tackle the low spin on offer with ease and then witnessed the ‘home’ side losing the plot on the last day. Up against newbie Ajaz Patel and debutant Will Somerville, who got a stick at 34 years of age, the Pakistani unit huffed and puffed through their 56.1 overs on the last day, eventually losing all their scalps for 156 runs on Day 5 to lose the match and the series against a team who had turned up in whites for the first time in seven months.
Set an improbable target of 280 for a series-winning triumph against the Black Caps, Pakistan just needed to weather the storm, manage their nerves and get going. However, the innings started on an anti-climactic note as Mohammad Hafeez barely survived the first ball of his last Test innings by playing an outside off delivery away from the body. Trent Boult and Tim Southee kept things tight at the very start, troubling Imam-ul-Haq with pace and constantly changing the angle of the deliveries to Hafeez. It worked as the player was dismissed to a brute of a delivery, which landed around the off-stump before straightening up to knock off the off-stump as the Professor walked back a final time. The dismissal had been cleverly plotted by Southee, who delivered the ball a little wider of the crease after sticking to the outside off-stump line for the first 6 overs.
At the other end, Imam looked a calm self, smashing back-to-back boundaries off the same bowler – the first a cut and then a drive past mid-off. However, the arrival of Colin de Grandhomme ruffled up Azhar Ali, who was seen edging his deliveries, and was eventually out in a similar fashion – edging an outswinger for an easy catch to the keeper.
Haris Sohail had a sedate start, scoring 2 off 21 deliveries before unleashing himself with a smashing six that sailed over long-on. However, he was unable to withstand the change in speed, line, length and spin by Somerville. After facing a ball 90.8kph that spun only 3 degrees, the bowler slowed down the ball, bowling at 76.1kmph with a spin of 8.3 degrees. The very next ball, Asad Shafiq was out after tickling a delivery that turned down leg to reduce the side to 43 for 4.
After two more boundaries, Imam was back in the hut too, as Pakistan were left tottering. The country just has a fourth innings average of 20.1 – the worst among all teams – since 2017 and the Kiwi spinners extracted this weakness to their advantage. Patel was extracting turn up to 5 degrees in the game, while Somerville was constantly varying his length on a track that had started to break down like chalk even before Williamson had walked out to bat.
Though Sarfaraz and Babar Azam tried to rebuild the innings together, stitching together a 43-run stand and took the attack to the rivals, Somerville soon dismissed the Pakistan skipper with a quicker delivery. He had tried to look positive and played with ‘intent’ – a term largely being misused in the cricketing world – attacking in 34% of his shots but the genius of the spinner and his own hubris wherein he misjudged the length led to his downfall. A 33-run partnership between Bilal Asif and Azam ignited hopes of a strong comeback but once the latter was dismissed – out to a slow, short and wide ball from Patel, the writing was well on the wall.
The down-slide, after Williamson and Henry Nicolls’ hundreds was not only disappointing but also highlighted once again the phases on unpredictability that the side gets seeped in to. Up against a menacing Yasir Shah, the two Kiwi stars had dished out an array of shots to eventually tire out the premier star and much was expected from the Pakistani unit once they walked out to bat.
However, when the moment to rise to the occasion a final time arrived in the series, all we got in return was a shoddy display of technique and temperament as they ended up conceding an away series win against New Zealand after 49 long years.