33rd National Games 2019
- 30 Nov - 06 Dec, 2019
In the end Pakistan were left wondering whether they lost the Test series by over a 100 runs or by 4, the number of runs they lost the third and first Test respectively. After all being some 40 runs away with 7 wickets in hand and then losing the first Test was incredulous for even the staunchest pessimists of Pakistan cricket. Then in the third Test after being something like 280-3 and then being bowled out for under 350 and allowing New Zealand to go from 60-4 to post a target of a few under 300 was equally mortifying for the Pakistani fan.
But how terrible was the collapse on the last day of the series? It of course couldn’t dwarf the first Test exodus of the last few but the manner in which batsmen like Babar Azam threw away his wicket was stupefying, almost as if he was playing a neighbourhood game and had to be called home; so a wild shot, the first of as few planned ones to get as much runs as possible, and off he went.
What was mystifying was that earlier, before lunch, he had started to walk off after being given lbw when he was called back by his partner to go for a DRS. The replay showed a significant outside edge before the ball struck the pads. How could he have not felt it through his wrists?? Why was he walking away without a review? One would like to conclude that it was a moment of confusion, an edge that in the confusion of the mind in those nano seconds after the ball hit the pads went unnoticed by the nerves. The other explanation is too scary for the team management.
Then take Imam’s dismissal on what was the last day of the series. A gentle angled flick straight into short leg’s hands off a ball pitched outside the off stump!
All said and done Pakistan have lost a home series to the Kiwis after 1969-70. That was another tough loss at home by a side that was stronger in most departments than the Kiwis. And the first time the Kiwis had won an away series against Pakistan.
Full marks to them for pulling off a win that was brought about by a spin duo of Patel and Somerville that was playing its third and first Test respectively.
It was enough for Sarfraz Ahmed to quip that if he was found responsible then he would step down from the captaincy. I wouldn’t want that of course as would a lot of his fans. But he has been under pressure to perform with the bat, especially when trying to save or win a Test. His saving grace was an innings win in the second Test and earlier to that a thumping win against the Australians after Usman Khawaja and Tim Paine had stood in the way of a win in the first of the two Tests.
His leadership was questioned too. Indeed there were times when he let the game meander away from him, not trying options that were there. For instance the third Test when Williamson and Nicholls were defying the pace and spin thrust, Sarfraz never tried Haris Sohail or Hafeez for longer than an over or two. And this despite the two providing him with crucial breakthroughs in an earlier Test.
And he had had his way with Hafeez, who let him down in all the three Tests against New Zealand averaging less than 10 and were it not for a slip by Williamson at gully would have finished his Test odyssey with a golden duck and a pair in his last Test. It was enough for the stalwart to call it a day in Tests. Perhaps it came a couple of years too late as he kept to his promise of flopping in post hundred innings. If you take the last three Test hundreds he has scored, his average in the five or six innings that follow has been under 15!
His departure from the Test scene and the selectors’ continued ignorance of Sami Aslam and the potential debutant Abid Ali has further secured Imam’s position as opener, unless Fakhar succeeds in the first Test against South Africa and he doesn’t and Pakistan look for Shan Masood. There is also the option of Azhar Ali opening as he used to in ODIs before he called it a day in the shorter format. Otherwise Imam is all set to hold on to his opener’s slot despite a disappointing series on what were friendly pitches.
Nevertheless out of the debris of this series has emerged Yasir Shah with 29 wickets included in which was a world record of reaching 200 Test wickets in three Tests less than the man who held the record for over eight decades.
At the same time it was heartening to see Hasan Ali get into the wickets in the longer format. That he did so with an average of 21.07 and economy rate of almost the same as Yasir Shah was commendable. In him Pakistan have found a second pacer who can bat a bit though he let down his captain when it came to hanging in there. He is too impetuous and bats without consideration of the match situation. But then that is not his priority and what was he fulfilled with character.
Another pleasing point was the emergence of Haris Sohail as a dependable and specialist batsman. He had the highest batting average after Babar Azam and Azhar Ali (who topped 300 runs to become the highest scorer for Pakistan) and has at last started to convert his 30s and 40s into hundreds.
But other than these gems Pakistan rolled down and surrendered in two of the three games. And most of their mistakes were self-inflicted. That is the biggest tragedy. They went from stupidity to sheer stupidity and in every way you can call it a series of blunders.