In what turned out to be a surreal final session, New Zealand scripted a grandstand finish by running through the cream of Pakistan’s brittle lower-middle-order as the hosts sealed the Test rubber 2-0 on the fifth and final day in Hamilton on Tuesday (November 29). They registered their first Test series win against Pakistan since January 1985. Neil Wagner was the star performer for the home side, as he bagged the scalps of Mohammad Amir (0), Wahab Riaz (0) and Imran Khan (0) in a mere seven balls to propel the home side to a victory.
As the final session commenced, Pakistan required a further 211 runs in 34 overs, with Sami Aslam (91) and Babar Azam (16) batting in the middle. The 22-year-old Azam, however, soon fell in an attempt to provide the impetus. The plucky right-hander looked to drive Mitchell Santner, but could only drag it back onto the stumps. Incidentally, Azhar Ali (58), Pakistan’s skipper, was dislodged earlier in the day in an identical fashion.
Sarfraz Ahmed (19), the doughty wicketkeeper-batsman, and Aslam, however, seemed to believe that they could chase down the target. The pair rattled off runs quickly, but in an attempt to carve out a major chunk of the mounting run rate, Aslam perished to Tim Southee, just nine runs short of lodging his maiden Test hundred.
The tourists continued to slide further when Sarfraz tried to pinch in a second run, only for Colin de Grandhomme to fire in a bullet throw from long-leg, with BJ Watling whipping the bails off.
Asad Shafiq didn’t last long as he was removed by Matt Henry. Younis Khan (11) used all his experience to nullify the threat of the second new ball to some extent. However, just in the nick of time, Southee ushered in the inswinger to trap the 39-year-old in front. Initially, he was adjudged not out. However, as Younis hadn’t offered a stroke, Kane Williamson placed his belief in the review and replays suggested it would crash into the off-stump.
At 218 for 6, New Zealand were certainly on the verge of posting a nail-shredding win. Henry and Southee also started to generate prodigious swing with the second new ball and that caused problems for Pakistan’s lower-order. Mohamma Rizwan and Sohail Khan survived a few anxious moments, before de Grandhomme and Wagner engineered a frenetic collapse to clinch the series.
Sohail sliced one off Grandhomme to point and then Wagner took over by bending his back to dislodge Amir and Riaz in a single over. He provided the finishing touches with another of those short deliveries to force Imran to fend it to Tom Latham at short leg, who plucked a splendid catch. On expected lines, there was elation in the New Zealand camp.
In a sharp contrast to the final session, the first two seemed to be a throwback to a distant era as Azhar and Aslam showed resolve and patience to keep the opposition at bay.
The opening pair mostly batted with no-frills, determined approach. Azhar then reached his 23rd Test fifty in the 52nd over of the innings. Aslam, who took as many as 188 deliveries to compile a gritty half-century, completed the landmark with a crunching pull off Wagner. It was a shot played with authority.
The duo’s obdurate methods, frustrated New Zealand. In search for wickets, the hosts even wasted a review. In the 22nd over of the innings bowled by Henry, Azhar appeared to have swayed out of the way while facing a bouncer. New Zealand, however, went for the review. On replays, it clearly confirmed that it hit the chest of Azhar on its way to the wicketkeeper. In short, it was a desperate review.
To make matters worse for the home side, Williamson, the New Zealand skipper, took too much time to ask for the review for an LBW against Aslam off Colin de Grandhomme’s bowling and the home team’s request was timed out. Replays showed that the impact was in line and the ball would have crashed into the stumps. New Zealand took 18 seconds to ask for the review, three more than the stipulated time allowed to request for it.
It has to be noted that when New Zealand last won a Test series against Pakistan back in 1985, Williamson, the incumbent captain, wasn’t yet born. The 1-0 series win also came during the halcyon days of Richard Hadlee, who picked up 16 wickets in that Test series. It gives an inkling about the significance of this victory for the home side. On the other hand, Pakistan have a lot to ponder about their abject collapse, which saw them lose nine wickets for 71 runs
Brief scores: New Zealand 271 and 313/5 decl. (Ross Taylor 102*, Tom Latham 80; Imran Khan 3-76) beat Pakistan 216 (Babar Azam 90*, Sarfraz Ahmed 41; Tim Southee 6-80, Neil Wagner 3-59) and 230 (Sami Aslam 91, Azhar Ali 58; Neil Wagner 3-57) by 138 runs