NEW ZEALAND PROVED RELENTLESS AND OPTIMISTIC DESPITE UPHILL BATTLE
Fans at Zayed Cricket stadium were treated to an enthralling end to the 1st Test of the Oye Hoye 2018 Pakistan vs. New Zealand Test Series presented by Brighto Paints, as the Black Caps prised the fingers of the Pakistan players off the trophy, and clinch victory in Abu Dhabi.
On a day where it seemingly was Pakistan’s to lose, the Green Army marched onto the field this morning buoyant after ending Day 3 on 37-0, needing 139 runs to secure the game. And Mohammed Hafeez and Imam Ul-Haq, after drumming up the respectable 37 the night before, continued in almost the same vein but at a much slower pace; the batsmen settled themselves in from the 8th until the 12th over, but only managed to chalk up three runs. Ajaz Patel, who was unknowingly about to start his man of the match-winning performance, bowled a plum ball to Imam Ul-Haq and struck him sharply on the pad, which surely would have crashed into middle and leg stump. An ideal way for Patel to start his debut Test match.
It didn’t take too long for Hafeez to follow, as four balls later Colin de Grandhomme caught an easy catch at cover, after Sodhi’s ball made Hafeez commit too early to the shot. Furthermore, Pakistan fans were left silenced only three balls after, as Sodhi struck again by bowling and then catching Haris Sohail with an impressive shin-height grab, sending him back to the pavilion on 4. It then came down, once again, to Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam to steady the ship and see Pakistan over the line from the end of the 13thover.
Towards the end of the 13th over, Ali and Shafiq managed to keep their cool under the Abu Dhabi sun, and did so for the next 23 overs. The pair knocked a much-needed 85 runs for Pakistan, leaving them on 130/3 after the 37th over. Yet Neil Wagner gave the Black Caps the glimmer of hope his team needed just before lunch by removing Shafiq, who feathered the ball behind for a comfortable catch. Despite leaving the pitch, Shafiq managed a personal victory today of reaching his landmark 4000th Test run.
Play resumed at 12.40pm with Pakistan needing 46 runs with six wickets still in the bank. Wagner resumed duties and peppered Azam and Ali with pace and sharp deliveries, keeping their runs to a minimum and in one instance, a maiden over. Azam was both cautious and resourceful with his shots, ensuring his longevity at the crease continued; a cutting shot through covers saw his four runs added to take their target down to 37 on over 40.4. But exactly two overs later, Azam was run-out after having to commit to his run as Ali had already set off towards him. Up steps captain Sarfraz Ahmed…
Still needing 22 runs, Pakistan needed to maintain composure and would hopefully do so under the guidance of the captain. Yet despite an early three runs from Sarfraz, merely two overs later the captain was sent packing after an attempted sweep saw huge appeals for both lbw and then for being caught.
A maiden 46th over then followed before Sarfraz’s replacement – Bilal Asif – has his middle stump removed after attempting to smash the ball out of the stadium, only succeeding in hitting fresh air. Yasir Shah then made his way to the crease and made four dot balls to get to the end of the 47th over on 154/7.
Wagner had other ideas and clearly had no intention of Pakistan slowly creeping up their runs for victory, and did so by enticing Shah with a ball that could quite easily have been left. It was, however, nicked off to wide slip and the 48th over ended 155/8.
Azar Ali made his 50 runs on the second ball of the following over, but a solitary hand wave to the crowd suggested he was more concerned with the impending bowling onslaught, rather than celebrating the milestone of runs. The 49th over crept up by one to 156/8.
New Zealand continued to show tremendous fight, as Wagner and Patel were relentless for the next several balls. Patel piled on the pressure by removing Ali for 58, giving New Zealand only one wicket to take; one run in each over from overs 52-58, made for nervous watching for all those in the stadium. The end of over 58 saw Pakistan on 171/9, but Patel peppered Ali with some fantastic bowling and stole the match away from Pakistan, as he bowled Ali out through lbw.
Captain Kane Williamson and his team were clearly jubilant once Ali’s lbw was confirmed after a review, as was coach Gary Stead who was in charge of his first Test. However Pakistan left the field somewhat distraught, considering the game at the start of the day really was theirs to lose.
Williamson spoke to international media after the game, saying: “It certainly was dramatic! Throughout the four days both teams were put under pressure and I think at the end of the day it was just a great advertisement for Test cricket. Pakistan certainly had the advantage after the first day, but one of the characteristics we hold dear is our scrapping attitude and we were able to get back into the game with so many different contributions from the batting, bowling and fielding. It was a great Test win from our perspective.
These games are so close,” added Williamson. “When you look at the smaller details and how it can go either way just shows you how close it was. And there are a number of parts we need to work on going into the next game for sure. Pakistan are a very strong side and to go toe-to-toe with them and come out as winner is certainly a highlight.
After a gripping end to this Test, it’s New Zealand who take the lead with two Tests to go. The final Test will take place back at Zayed Cricket Stadium on 3rd December 2018.