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Pakistan's Babar Azam celebrates after scoring a century. Photo / AP
It took nearly 20 years for the Black Caps to return to Pakistan, but only 30 minutes to make history.
The rest of the day wasn’t quite as productive.
For the first time in test cricket, the first two wickets to fall were stumpings in the first test in Karachi, with Ajaz Patel and Michael Bracewell striking in the first seven overs, and Tom Blundell smoothly removing the bails.
That bizarre world record may be more attributable to Pakistan than New Zealand. While Patel, Bracewell and Blundell all did their jobs to good effect, the shots played by Pakistan were – much like that record statistic that followed – never seen before at that stage of an innings.
In the fourth over, after being beaten by the first two balls from Patel, Abdullah Shafique decided to charge down the wicket to play a rare mid-pitch forward defence. It was a bad idea. He missed as Patel dropped it shorter, and his charge down the wicket merely made the shameful walk back to the pavilion shorter.
Shan Masood, having witnessed his opener’s demise, tried to slog the second ball he faced from Patel, but was saved by his pads, then in his ultimate wisdom tried to do it again to Bracewell, missed a big drive, and he too was sent packing.
When Imam ul-Haq also fell victim to an aggressive strategy, skying an easy catch to Tim Southee at mid-off, Pakistan were 48-3 after choosing to bat and seemed to be imploding.
However, it was a chance that wasn’t taken that proved the most pivotal.
On 12, Pakistan skipper Babar Azam – one of the best batsmen in the world – gave Daryl Mitchell a regulation catch at slip off Bracewell. It went down, and Babar made him pay, finishing the day unbeaten on 161 as Pakistan reached 317-5, mixing the right doses of aggression and patience required on a pitch that had turn but no demons.
It was an initial partnership of 62 with Saud Shakeel that set Pakistan straight after the inexplicable top-order efforts, and while Southee broke that stand before lunch – Shakeel also throwing his wicket away by slashing a wide ball to Henry Nicholls at gully – that was the last success New Zealand had, with Babar and Sarfaraz Ahmed batting for almost two full sessions in a stand of 196.
Former captain Sarfaraz had been recalled after nearly four years in the test wilderness but made the most of his return with an excellent 86, only falling just before the end of play when Mitchell made partial amends with a sharp low catch off Patel, who thought he had another scalp in the final over when trapping Babar lbw, only for a review to overturn the decision.
However, after the early success of the spinners, New Zealand’s bowlers were found wanting. Patel (2-91) lost his lines briefly after his early success and was less threatening until his late wicket, while Ish Sodhi, playing his first test since 2018 in a spin trio, was far too loose in conceding 49 runs in 10 wicketless overs.
Neil Wagner, whose test career may have been extended by the absence of Trent Boult and Kyle Jamieson, was economical but placid in his 16 overs after being picked over fellow seamer Matt Henry.
Will Young was the batsman to make way for an extra bowler with Devon Conway set to open in a test for the first time since June 2021, while Nicholls and Mitchell will make up the middle order at four and five.
Those batsmen will need to significantly contribute after Pakistan put New Zealand on the back foot – perhaps where Pakistan’s top-order trio should have been stationed all along.
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Follow the action as the Black Caps take on Pakistan in Karachi.
Cricket: Babar Azam punishes Black Caps as Pakistan take control … – New Zealand Herald
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