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Pitch is behaving like Asian wickets on fifth day - Azhar Ali on New Zealand challenge
Pakistan News

Pitch is behaving like Asian wickets on fifth day - Azhar Ali on New Zealand challenge

Azhar Ali believes the Mount Maunganui pitch is similar to the slow surfaces usually found in Asian conditions as Pakistan battle for a draw in the ongoing Test against New Zealand.

Azhar reached the close of play on day four unbeaten on 34 from 117 deliveries in the company of the resolute Fawad Alam, who is on 21 off 55 balls.

Pakistan were earlier rattled by the loss of both openers without any score on the board following New Zeland's decision to set the tourists an improbable target of 373.

While the Black Caps' sole specialist spinner Mitchell Santner was deployed for only six overs in the evening session, Azhar is of the view that he will acquire a more significant role as the contest prolongs on the final day.

"There was turn and bounce on a couple of deliveries so you can imagine what the situation is on the fifth day on a pitch like this," Azhar assessed. "Normally, spinners don't play an instrumental role in New Zealand but you can see on this particular pitch, Yasir got some turn and bounce and Santner will exploit the slowness of the surface."

"The pitch resembles those we usually see in Asian conditions on the fifth day," he stressed.

Although existing evidence suggests Pakistan seem ill-equipped to bat for longer periods under pressure in foreign conditions, Azhar sounded optimistic in his plans for Wednesday.

He claimed his budding partnership with Fawad was a sign of the pitch becoming easier to bat on once the batsmen dig in.

"Obviously, on a fifth-day pitch, it will be challenging. We know what a quality bowling side New Zealand is. All we can do is focus on playing the ball on merit as much as we can, and take small targets like batting in sessions," Azhar stated.

"That is what we can do right now and hopefully, we can build a big partnership. In the last hour that Fawad and I played, it gave the impression that if you can get in, you can play for a long time on this pitch. We'll be expecting a lot of challenges thrown at us tomorrow and hopefully, we can counter them."

Pakistan's first-innings capitulation before Mohammad Rizwan and Faheem Ashraf's desperate rescue act was criticised for depicting a negative mindset.

However, with a draw presumably the best possible result for Pakistan, Azhar highlighted the strain involved in timing the ball.

"We've seen some balls keep low and it is getting slower, so it hard to time the ball," the former Pakistan skipper said.

"With the new ball, it was coming onto the bat better but when the ball got older, it was tough to play shots. If you can get in, keep your balance, and play with the full face of the bat, then you have a chance to survive for a long time on this wicket."

Tim Southee's milestone of 300 Test wickets dominated the headlines on day four but Neil Wagner's remarkable dedication to bowling for his team despite two broken toes also received accolades.

Azhar showered praise on Wagner's gritty character and called him an "inspiration" for all cricketers given his spirited effort in the face of a painful injury.

"Huge respect for him [Neil Wagner]. That is what it means to play for your nation. He is an inspiration for everyone as he is playing with not one but two broken toes. He is fighting for his team," Azhar said.

"When we started the innings, we believed Wagner won't be bowling as he was experiencing pain during his warm-up routine but he came back again and bowled. It shows a lot of character and people will learn from him."