New Zealand 274 (Kane Williamson 89, Jeet Raval 45, BJ Watling 77*; Yasir Shah 3-75, Bilal Asif 5-65) and 353-7 (Kane Williamson 139 , Henry Nicholls 126*; Shaheen Afridi 2-85, Yasir Shah 4-129)
Pakistan 348 (Azhar Ali 134, William Somerville 104; Trent Boult 2-66, William Somerville 4-75) and 156 (Babar Azam 51; Ajaz Patel 3-42, Tim Southee 3-42, William Somerville 3-52)
Result - New Zealand won by 123 runs
Time and again the Pakistan batting line up show how feeble and helpless it becomes on a final day of a Test. Regardless of the quality of the bowling and the surface, they simply have no idea how to bat under pressure. Will a full-time sports psychologist be the answer to cure the mental siege? The two spinners – Ajaz Patel and William Somerville – with only four Test appearances between them, bowled New Zealand to its first away series win against Pakistan, since 1969-70.
I am sure Mickey Arthur the head coach, does not need reminding of the 14 Test defeats- primarily through batting failure - since his appointment in May 2016. It is a matter of grave concern and should be viewed as one, by the new hierarchy of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). With a three-Test series in South Africa, kicking off on Boxing Day, individually and collectively this Pakistan side is clearly in shambles and to put it mildly have become the laughing stock of the cricket world.
In Abu Dhabi, Pakistan was asked to survive for 79 overs and if they could do that a fourth-innings target of 280 was not out of question. But given the fragile mind-set of the entire batting line-up, including seasoned campaigners and first innings centurions Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, a draw would have been considered a ‘great victory’. But it was not to be. The prospect of batting on the final day, seem to scramble the minds of the very best as if they were being asked to bat blindfolded. Both Azhar (nibbling at an out-swinger) and Asad (caught behind,down the leg side, for a first-ball duck) once again failed to lead or inspire the less experienced batsmen in the side.
Mohammad Hafeez, in his farewell Test innings, looked his ‘normal’ self, with very little hope of surviving. After being dropped on nought by Kane Williamson in gully, he was out to a beautiful leg-cutter that initially shaped in, to hit the top of off stump. By the time, the extended 2 ½ hour opening session was over, half of the Pakistan team was in the pavilion with the writing very much on the wall. Imam-ul-Haq’s dismissal, caught at short leg, had made it 55-5 and a small matter of 58.2 overs, still to survive.
Even when Babar Azam (51) and Sarfraz Ahmed (28) were batting together in a 43-run stand for the 6th wicket, all was not rosy and it was only a matter of time for the Kiwis to strangle the lower half of Pakistan batting. With a bat in his hand, captain Sarfraz resembles ‘cat on a hot tin roof’ with an impulsive desire to play all the strokes that he learned in the streets of Karachi. The demands of International cricket, it seems are repeatedly being overlooked by him. His batting and dismissal today was once again not worthy of the captain, who at number 7, is looked upon to rescue the side in tight situations. With the talented Mohammad Rizwan breathing down his neck, Sarfraz might lose his Test place altogether, in case he decides to step down as captain for the South Africa tour?
Abu Dhabi Test is set to feature quite prominently in the career of Kane Williamson, arguably the best batsman produced by New Zealand and now surely worthy of being ranked as one of its best captains as well. A batting genius, he adapted beautifully with knocks of 89 and 139 against the constant threat of Yasir Shah. His 19th Test hundred initially brought his side back in the game and eventually set up a great victory.
By picking Somerville, the 34-year old spinner, for a Test debut and then laying the bait with a well-thought plan of a 280 run target, Williamson should be credited with two master strokes in the must-win deciding Test. In sharp contrast to his Pakistan counterpart, Williamson, always calm and thoughtful, was able to shrug off the innings defeat at Dubai. Without his massive contribution with both bat and in the field as a smart leader, New Zealand could have been heading back home, whitewashed. Instead it is his side that won the two hard-fought matches, both in Abu Dhabi, to clinch the series 2-1. Christmas has certainly arrived early for the New Zealand cricketers.
Pakistan - Imam ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Azhar Ali, Haris Sohail, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed(c)(wk), Bilal Asif, Yasir Shah, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi
New Zealand - Jeet Raval, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson(c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling(wk), Colin de Grandhomme, Tim Southee, Ajaz Patel, William Somerville, Trent Boult
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