Match Tied (Royal Challengers Bangalore win one-over eliminator)
The Pakistan Test squad arrived in the Land of the Long White Cloud in relatively good nick, undefeated in their last 7 Test series. They had comfortably won the recent 3 Test series in UAE against the West Indies, but had embarrassingly lost the final Test at Sharjah. The Black Caps on the other hand had just been handed a shellacking by India in India, and were delighted to be back playing on home turf.
History was also in favour of Pakistan, having not lost a series in New Zealand since the mid-Eighties and in fact having won the previous contest 1 nil. The stars seem to be aligned for yet another triumph over the Black Caps, and a chance to get the tour Down Under off to the perfect start.
This of course is exactly what did not happen.
The tour got off to a perfectly disastrous start with the 3 day warm-up game being washed out without a ball being bowled. On to the real contest then, and Day 1 of the 1st Test at Christchurch was duly sacrificed to the rain gods too.
Day 2, and at last some cricket is finally being played. Pakistan were sent in to bat first on a pitch as green as a snooker table, but the demons in the mind played more tricks than anything from the pitch. All-rounder Colin de Grandhomme, a name straight out of a Victorian novel and with a fearsome moustache to match, laid the Pakistani top order in tatters. Misbah ul Haq provided the typical resistance as Pakistan were shot out for a paltry 133. Undercooked, underprepared & underwhelming by all standards.
Up to the Pak bowlers then to bring them back into the game, and they duly responded. For once the Pakistan catching was up to the mark as Amir, Sohail & Rahat used the conditions perfectly to knock the Kiwis over for 200, a Herculean effort considering how far behind Pakistan were in the game.
Things were moving fairly smoothly in the 2nd innings with Pakistan at 58/1, Azhar Ali especially in a monk-like trance at the crease with his infinite patience. However, a double strike to snare Babar and Younis from Neil Wagner saw Pakistan at the brink, with the old warhorse Misbah once again needed to steady the innings. This time however he could not deliver, and in fact played an atrociously timed pull to be caught at deep fine leg to definitively swing the match in New Zealand’s favour. Pakistan eventually succumbed and was 171 all out, with paceman Sohail Khan channeling his inner Inzamam with some lusty blows at the twilight of the innings to give the scorecard some semblance of respectability. The Kiwis knocked off the paltry 105 target in no time to take a 1 nil lead in the series.
The team had failed to cross 250 even once in the four innings on the tour, and with a demanding 3 Test series against Australia up next, one has to wonder. Will there be further misery Down Under for Pakistan? Or will Misbah’s motley crew be able to turn their fortunes around in a bid to regain their #1 Test ranking once again.
To add insult to injury, skipper Misbah was banned from the 2nd Test due to his second slow over rate violation of the year, Pakistan’s mission to tie the series going from improbable to almost impossible.
The 2nd Test at Hamilton predictably saw another green wicket, but this time stand-in captain Azhar won the toss and sent the Kiwis in to face the music. Spin talisman Yasir Shah was also made to sit out in favor of a 4-pronged pace attack, and the plan seemed to work with New Zealand reeling at 119 for 5. However, Pakistan’s age old malaise – dropped catches & the tailenders – came to the fore as the lower half of the Kiwi batting lineup dragged them to a respectable 1st innings score of 271.
Pakistan’s turn to bat, and it was the same old sorry tale. Tim Southee did his impression of a bull in a china shop, smashing the Pakistan top order to bits with a spell of hostile, accurate swing bowling. Babar Azam was the lone survivor witnessing the carnage from the other end as Pakistan was reduced to 51 for 5. Babar & Sarfraz counter-attacked with style and panache, and that man Sohail Khan once again came to the party with the bat to take Pakistan within striking distance of the New Zealand first innings score. At the end Babar was left stranded 10 runs shy of a maiden Test hundred as Pakistan eventually folded for 216.
Rain then began to play its part in the mischief as the rest of Day 3 was washed out, with NZ resuming on Day 4 with the game in the balance. Dropped catches and easier batting conditions saw New Zealand take control with a 96 run stand between Latham and Williamson, and then Ross Taylor cut loose to almost put the game out of reach. Taylor brought his 16th Test hundred after a barren run of 12 innings without a 50+ score, much to his and skipper Williamson’s relief. New Zealand eventually declared at 313 for 5, leaving Pakistan a mammoth target of 369 to chase on the final day of the series.
Slow and steady was the mantra for the final day as Azhar & Sami dug in deep until the brink of Tea, with the equation leaving Pakistan to bat at 6 runs per over for the minimum 34 overs of the day. With nine wickets in hand it could be done, and if nothing else surely the pair had done enough to at least draw the game.
Fair enough, but this is Pakistan.
What followed was a tragicomedy of cinematic proportions. A toxic mix of horrible shot selection and blind panic saw Babar, Sami and Sarfraz depart in a flash to well and truly kill the runchase before it had even begun. Oh well, it was not meant to be. Surely the experienced pair of Younis and Asad could shut up shop and see out the rest of the day?
No chance. Asad was hurriedly sent back giving a leading edge to point, and the woefully out of form Younis Khan’s horrible tour came to an abrupt end when he shouldered arms to a straight ball. The end was nigh, and it came in a hurry as Pakistan incredibly lost 9 wickets in just 25 overs to be bowled out for 230. The first time in the history of Test cricket that a team had lost nine wickets in the final session of a Test match on Day 5.
Credit to Pakistan, when they do lose it is certainly in dramatic style.
The team had failed to cross 250 even once in the four innings on the tour, and with a demanding 3 Test series against Australia up next, one has to wonder. Will there be further misery Down Under for Pakistan? Or will Misbah’s motley crew be able to turn their fortunes around in a bid to regain their #1 Test ranking once again?
Time will certainly tell. One thing is for sure, it will make for riveting & dramatic cricket either way.