“It was a typical Pakistani cameo with which the followers of Pakistan cricket team since the 90s are well accustomed – they crop up, entertain and end up winning the hearts. But in the end, the gems, who produce such heroics are never nurtured properly – this has been the problem of Pakistan for almost three decades”

Just four-and-a-half overs were left and Pakistan’s last-wicket pair was trying to earn an astonishing draw. During the days of Imran Khan, Pakistan survived 129 overs in Trinidad against that all-conquering West Indies and stunned the world. The chance of another Imran-Khan-Pakistan-like bravery was around the corner, but sadly, the Pakistani ship could not reach the shores safely – New Zealand celebrated leaving the Pakistani tail-enders in the sea of sadness.

The final day transformed into an enthralling spectacle when Fawad Alam and Mohammad Rizwan dished out an inspiring partnership for the fifth wicket.

Since that attritional hundred at Galle back in 2009, Fawad Alam scored a second, and spent 380 balls in the company of Mohammad Rizwan, to bring Pakistan to within sight of a draw, against all odds. It was the eighth-longest fourth-innings partnership of all time, in all Test matches according to the available data.

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Alam and Rizwan, who came together in the second over of Day 5, were still together and 25.2 overs were remaining for the day. They had seen off 22.4 overs of the second new ball, on a pitch that had almost nothing to offer the fast bowlers when the ball was old.

New Zealand needed six wickets in those 25.2 overs while Pakistan just needed to see-off the day rather than trying to get motivated by the so-called positive thinkers, who emphasize going for a win and play shots, but, in turn, forgets that in Test cricket, earning a hard-fought draw is equivalent to positive intent when the going gets tough.

Pakistan fought, won the accolades, made Test cricket beautiful, but they are one down in the series.

Pakistan had been without their poster-boy and skipper, Babar Azam in this series, and in the absence of him, Rizwan was given the task to lead.

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If any positives Pakistan can take from the first Test then that is the courage and leadership skills of Rizwan.

Born in the year, when Imran Khan became the undisputed champion of world cricket, playing for Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited in the final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy in 2014–15, Rizwan scored 224 to help Sui Northern to a 301-run first-innings lead and their second title. He kept wicket for Pakistan A in the five limited-overs matches against Kenya in December 2014.

In April 2018, he was named the vice-captain of Punjab’s squad for the 2018 Pakistan Cup, and one month later, he scored his highest total in List A cricket, with 140 off 123 balls against Federal Areas. In 2019, he was named as the captain of the Federal Areas squad for the 2019 Pakistan Cup.

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In September 2019, Rizwan was named as the captain of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the 2019–20 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. He was retained by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the 2020–21 domestic season, both as player and captain of the team.

Rizwan has experienced the topsy-turvy world of international cricket and in test cricket, he discovered how tough is it to survive here until and unless a cricketer works hard on his technique and displays tough character.

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In the course of time, Rizwan polished himself. A section of Pakistani fans continued to make fun of Rizwan on social media, but guess what; they need to eat their humble pie because after the kind of character Rizwan showed in the best format of the game, they should call themselves lucky to have such a player in the team.

Four or five months back, Rizwan was very impressive against England in England – On the second day of the second Test,  resuming from 126 for 5, Pakistan lost overnight batsman Babar early as he was caught behind the stumps by Jos Buttler off Stuart Broad. Pakistan kept losing wickets at regular intervals but Rizwan played cautiously and took his side to a respectable total before the close of play.

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“When we had Babar with me, I was being compact,” Rizwan said. “But when he got out and the tail came in, I knew I would have to go searching for the runs. In this format, you have these phases. At times, you have to stay calm and work hard to preserve your wicket. It would be silly to throw your wicket away when you have Babar alongside you, but the situation changed when he got out. When the tail came in, I attacked, and that worked out very nicely.”

“This was a new experience for me. When I play domestic cricket, I bat in the top five, so here, batting with the tail was a learning process for me. When we were coming on and off [due to rain and bad light], I spoke to Misbah[-ul-Haq] and Younis [Khan], and they gave me plenty of advice on how to play. But to negotiate the situation batting with the tail, and how to build up the innings for myself and the team, is very much a learning process and this was a good start.”

It was the partnership with Mohammad Abbas that actually describes the ability of Rizwan to soak-up the pressure and steer the ship through choppy waters.

After Pakistan crumbled to 176 for 8, Shaheen Afridi falling to some characteristically tailender running, even 200 seemed a distant prospect. Rizwan started farming the strike, and as England spread the field, he found the stifling pressure lift – a fighting knock dished out!

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“We have fought back and our position is decent,” Rizwan said. “If we add 30-40 runs, we have lots of chances. Even if we don’t, and get them out within our own score, the match is on. You look at our bowlers, and they did the job for us in Manchester. England had the fortune on that final day, but our bowlers did a very good job. We expect them to repeat that here, given the ball seamed all the time for England. They had a bit of good fortune in that when we kept coming off, they got a bit of rest between their spells, allowing them to bowl longer spells. But our bowlers are young and capable, and we expect to contain them to within our total.”

“This Mohd Rizwan can bat! He can drive well off the front foot & at the same time play the pull & the cut superbly. This makes him an ‘all-weather’ batsman. No wonder his top 3 scores in Tests so far have come in Aus and Eng,” Sanjay Manjrekar tweeted.

Back in Sky Sports, the competent television experts praised the lad highly.

On Day 3 of the first test against New Zealand, Rizwan was found at his very best again under pressure.

Wickets kept on tumbling and Rizwan had to play the captain’s knock and prove his worth.

When Faheem Ashraf joined Rizwan, Pakistan had hit just four boundaries and Ashraf decided to put the red-hot New Zealand attack on the back foot.

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Ashraf rocked back and smacked Wagner in front of square for four and then he hit Jamieson, who had gone for nine in 17 overs, for eight runs in two balls.

New Zealand quick realized he’d have to change things up, and he fed Rizwan one that was short and wide, but that was splashed for four.

Pakistan doubled their 60-over score in 20 overs, and Rizwan and Ashraf both brought up half-centuries.

It was a typical Pakistani cameo with which the followers of the Pakistan cricket team since the 90s are well accustomed – they crop up, entertain and end up winning hearts. But in the end, the gems, who produce such heroics are never nurtured properly – this has been the problem of Pakistan for almost three decades.

Rizwan was solid on Day 5 and yet again, proved, he is an all-weather batsman and one of the best in the business when the going gets tougher.

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Again, one cannot deny his captaincy abilities – even when the Kiwis were pestering the Pakistani attack on Day 1 and 2, Rizwan was never seen to drop shoulders, but kept on motivating his boys and changed the fields to make things happen. The intent to fetch wicket was always noticed, but the New Zealand batters were world-class, while the Pakistani bowlers lacked the skill to outweigh them.

Even in defeat he is humble and raring to go for the next battle.

After the match, he said, “Not too disappointed. This is the beauty of Test cricket. As a human being, I believe Almighty Allah gives us rewards for hard work. New Zealand worked harder than us, and that’s why the result was with their team. After the toss, our decision was good, but fielding well is most important when you want to take early wickets. We collapsed in the field and gave away a few too many catches, but Williamson played really well. (On whether they were going for the victory) Yes, the declaration was a good one, but they took early wickets. Again today we wanted to go for the target, but they took early wickets. They have done really well [lately] in Test cricket. I must give special credit to Neil Wagner, for bowling with a fractured toe. We lost this match, but we are still in the series. We played very well in this match, and we need some improvement in our bowling.”

Rizwan can be the tough nut which Pakistan is search for, but it is up to the mysterious world of Pakistan cricket how they manage such a brilliant cricketer.

 

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