Pakistan v New Zealand 2nd Test - A day of hard labour in Dubai
New Zealand kept a tight rein on Pakistan to restrict them to 207-4 at close of play on Day 1 at Dubai. Had the Kiwis not dropped a couple of catches, it could have put even more pressure on the batsmen, still shell shocked after the events of Abu Dhabi, earlier in the week.
The discipline of the tourists reached such a level that the first extra run (a no-ball by Neil Wagner) was leaked in the 80th over. Tomorrow its quest for wickets will continue, with second new ball in their hands and their prime target being the stubborn Haris Sohail, unbeaten on 81 after more than five hours at the crease.
Sarfraz Ahmed, Pakistan captain, was a relieved my man when the toss of a coin went in his favour, giving him a choice of batting first and more crucial to avoid batting last in the 2nd Test match at Dubai. The surface is expected be at his best on the opening day and the big guns of Pakistan side should fill their boots. The selection of Mohammad Hafeez, as so often in his chequered career, might give Pakistan an extra bowling option but his contribution with the bat as an opening batsman is quite ordinary. His two ‘soft’ dismissals at Abu Dhabi, once again proved him to be both a fair weather batsman and someone who at 38 should only be considered for white ball cricket. He has been found wanting against quality bowling and never had the technique to survive, outside the Asian sub-continent. God help us if he boards the plane to South Africa, next month.
Both teams were unchanged from the dramatic encounter at Abu Dhabi, which New Zealand, snatched from Pakistan on the fourth day. Though the margin was mere 4 runs, the tourists deserve credit for their resilience and fierce determination to fight till the last drop of the blood. The scars of the defeat will be carried by Pakistan players and it will be interesting to see how quickly they can bounce back.
Three-man New Zealand seam attack were on the money in the first hour of play for besides both openers – Hafeez and Imam-ul-Haq – out to slip catches off Colin Grandhomme, with an opening spell 18.104.22.168, the scoring rate on this slow wicket was kept below two runs an over. The approach of Pakistan batsmen in red ball cricket continues to attract criticism for it lacks both initiative and energy. A detail study will reveal how far behind they are in rotating the strike and missing out on ones and twos. Playing out maiden overs is no crime but to be building your innings on only two options – a boundary or a dot ball – does allow the opposition to enjoy an upper hand.
The lunch time score of 56 -2 off 28 overs (10 maidens) was a reflection of disciplined bowling and batsmen, lacking confidence, particularly Haris Sohail, 14 not out of 67 balls, not looking in great touch, admittedly on a slow surface. A painful grind to many, compared to what is going on all around the cricket world. An hour after lunch, Azhar Ali brought up his fifty with an off-side boundary – his seventh of the innings - of Trent Boult, having faced 100 balls. Scoring picked up a bit as a boundary from Haris brought up Pakistan’s 100 in 44.1 overs. Despite a slight acceleration, one could not see the total going beyond 220 by the close.
After a batting debacle at Abu Dhabi – 7 wickets going down for 41 runs - Pakistan batsmen wanted to prove a point that they do have the ability to stay at the wicket and bat in an ‘old-fashioned’ manner. This display by Azhar and Haris was certainly pushing the limits for Pakistan was batting on the opening day and not trying to save the game on the final day. Surprisingly, leg-spinner Ish Sodhi, did not come into the attack till the 46th over but he too did not give too many loose balls to hit. Tea arrived with the Pakistan pair having taken the score to 124-2 and NZ applying the brakes by conceding 10 runs in as many overs. Surely Pakistan now all set to up the tempo, having not lost any wickets in the middle session and two recognized batsmen at the crease.
Haris, grinding to a 177-ball fifty with a boundary behind point of Neil Wagner. Eventually it was a mix up that led to a run out and breaking of the 3rd wicket stand with Azhar, having to leave the field, following a painstaking 81 off 187 balls with 7 fours and a six. He missed out on a hundred, having worked so hard on his way to regaining his form and adding 126 runs with Haris. NZ were very grateful for the smart work by its reserve fielder – Tim Southee. Not so long after that, Asad Shafiq, unwisely stepped out to Ajaz Patel to be out caught for 12. Dear or dear.
Asad, despite his two 40s in a low-scoring defeat at Abu Dhabi, has faced criticism for not taking his game, a notch higher, after playing a Pakistan-record of 60 consecutive Tests. As a world-class batsman and now with 4000 plus runs to his name, he is very rightly expected to have more impact at this level, by taking his team to the finish line. 13 Test defeats in just over two-year period is just not acceptable and the likes of Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan , previously and now Azhar and Asad, could have done much more to bring this figure down to a single figure. There is an urgent need to address issues relating to absorbing second-innings pressure and the ability to see out challenging situations.
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