2nd Test, Day 4: New Zealand set Pakistan target of 319 to win series

The hosts lost two quick wickets to finish on 0/2 after the visitors had declared their second innings at 277/5.

As Day 4 of the second Test of New Zealand’s landmark tour of Pakistan approached, which also happened to be the penultimate day of Test cricket on Pakistani soil for the rest of 2023, the hosts found themselves 42 runs behind New Zealand’s first innings score, with just one wicket standing between the Black Caps and their second innings with the bat.

Saud Shakeel had stolen the headlines on Day 3 by virtue of recording his maiden Test ton on his home ground in Karachi, having rescued Pakistan from a sure-shot defeat and a potential third consecutive Test series defeat at home in the process. The dogged left-handed batter had remained unbeaten on an overnight score of 124 in the company of tailender Abrar Ahmed, who had not troubled the scorers as of yet.

Conventional wisdom suggested that a draw was the most likely result in this Test match, but theoretically, all three results were still possible, as a batting collapse in either camp could very much enable one of the two teams to push for victory and a consequent series win.

Ish Sodhi made quick work of ending Pakistan’s first innings on the sixth delivery of the day, wrapping Abrar Ahmed’s back pad plumb in front of the stumps to claim his third scalp of the innings and, in turn, help his team secure a satisfactory lead of 41 runs. With a full day’s play ahead of them, the scoring rate at which New Zealand’s batters would go about their business was the focus of most cricket pundits as the third innings was set to commence.

Naseem Shah kicked off proceedings with a wide, allowing New Zealand to get off the mark without having faced a single legal delivery, as the tearaway quick managed to draw Tom Latham’s outside edge later in the over, only for it to race away to the third man fence.

It did not take Pakistan long to penetrate, however, as there was some much-needed respite for Mir Hamza, who struck with his first ball of the day, hitting Devon Conway’s timber with a scintillating delivery, bowling the first innings centurion through the gate for a golden duck – his first in a 12-match Test career. Hamza had finally taken a wicket since his return to Pakistan’s Test team – his first wicket in the longest format in four years – and New Zealand were one down for 5 runs, leading by 46.

Tom Latham and Kane Williamson held the fort for New Zealand for the next little while, with the former demonstrating his rich vein of form with a sublime push vs. Naseem Shah down the ground for four. Williamson too sneaked in a boundary early on, guiding a Mir Hamza delivery through the gap between second slip and gully, exploiting the third man region splendidly, as he has so frequently throughout his illustrious career.

A Tom Latham cut for four off Naseem ensured that the fiery teenager ended his first spell of the third innings wicketless, as New Zealand continued to steadily add to their lead, with two burned reviews by skipper Babar Azam within 12 overs not helping Pakistan’s cause.

Kane Williamson’s bat continued to reap boundaries on the regular in the morning session – a charge down the wicket over Abrar Ahmed’s head, a dodgy slash through gully vs. Hassan Ali, and a swivel pull off the same bowler – whereas his partner Tom Latham tormented the spinners with his sweeps, pulls and gentle drives, to take New Zealand’s lead past three figures. And so, the lunch break had arrived, with the Kiwis ahead by 117 runs, having lost the solitary wicket of Devon Conway.

The afternoon session started with Kane Williamson slapping Mir Hamza off his back foot for a cracking four past point, as the Karachi surface maintained its reputation of being a batting paradise, showing no signs of deteriorating whatsoever. Shortly after, Latham added to the left-arm seamer’s toil, crunching him between cover and mid-off for an attractive boundary as both batters marched on, looking in fine touch.

Babar Azam nearly held on to a one-handed blinder off Abrar Ahmed’s bowling at midwicket, which would have seen Tom Latham depart for 45, as the left-handed opener went on to steer Naseem Shah to the third-man boundary to bring up his 25th half-century in Test cricket, in a rather aesthetically pleasing manner – his third fifty-plus score in the two-match series.

Abrar had spoken about his admiration for Kane Williamson in one of the post-day press conferences during the first Test, and it was no surprise where it came from, given the elegance with which New Zealand’s former Test captain flicked the bespectacled leg spinner to the midwicket fence.

Tom Latham, on the other end, enjoyed a bit of luck, first edging Naseem Shah through a vacant second slip for four and then surviving an appeal for LBW off Abrar Ahmed’s bowling, which would have resulted in his wicket, had Babar Azam decided to use his last available review.

The southpaw from Christchurch failed to make the most of these opportunities, however, as he was only able to add four more runs to his score, via a straight drive vs. Naseem Shah, as the leader of Pakistan’s attack got the experienced batter to flick one straight into the left mitt of a diving Abrar Ahmed at midwicket – a screamer of a take.

Latham was dismissed for a 103-ball 62, and what followed was a stretch of seven deliveries, in which the umpire raised his finger thrice, only for one wicket to fall – a period of play that aptly summed up the umpiring standards witnessed in this series. Both Henry Nicholls and Tom Blundell were adjudged leg before wicket for scores of zero – both decisions overturned by the third umpire via DRS.

To Pakistan’s delight, however, the one wicket they were successful in claiming was that of Kane Williamson, for a score of 41, as New Zealand’s premier batter failed to connect on a sweep, with Abrar Ahmed striking his front pad adjacent to the stumps – the 24-year-old leggie triumphing in prizing out the scalp he desired most.

Abrar and Naseem bowled a string of dot deliveries to mount pressure on Nicholls and Blundell, with the latter finally breaking loose on his fourteenth delivery of the day, flaying Naseem to the deep backward square boundary to get off the mark in an animated fashion. Blundell doubled his score on the next ball he faced, a short and wide loosener by Hassan Ali, which was aptly put away between point and gully.

Hassan, who was playing his first Test match since featuring vs. Sri Lanka at Galle in July, had not enjoyed the rub of the green in his comeback game, having drawn the edge on several occasions in the first innings, failing to force his name into the wickets column. His second innings effort was seemingly taking a similar trajectory, as a Henry Nicholls outside edge raced away past the slip fielder for four, leaving the 28-year-old right-arm seamer frustrated to the core.

To Hassan’s relief, reward was just around the corner, as Nicholls miscued a heave three deliveries later, ballooning the ball into Babar Azam’s hands at mid-off, as the star of Pakistan’s successful 2017 Champions Trophy campaign dropped down for a celebratory sajdah, in stark contrast to his usual generator celebration.

With Nicholls removed for 5 and Daryl Mitchell down with a stomach bug and reported shivers, allrounder Michael Bracewell joined Tom Blundell at the crease, the Kiwis finding themselves four down for 128 runs – 169 ahead of Pakistan.

After skipping down the track against Abrar Ahmed to maneuver a full delivery to the leg-side boundary, it seemed like Bracewell would finally get to double digits for the first time in the series. While he did manage to get there, it was by no means straightforward, as yet another edge off Hassan Ali’s bowling trickled down to the boundary rope between second and third slip.

On the stroke of Tea, Sarfaraz added to his wicketkeeping woes from the first Test, fumbling a catch off Abrar Ahmed’s bowling behind the stumps when Tom Blundell was batting on a score of 22. And so, the session ended on an exasperating note for the home team, with the visitors accumulating a healthy lead of 192, still having six more wickets in the tank.

A flurry of boundaries at the start of the final session of Day 4 saw New Zealand extend their lead past 200 – most of them lucky breaks which were rather streaky in nature, in addition to a brilliantly worked leg glance in front of square by Michael Bracewell. To add to Pakistan’s misery, Blundell was gifted another life, this time by Salman Ali Agha at first slip, when the wicketkeeper was on 32 runs, once again off the bowling of Abrar.

As the session progressed, Bracewell continued to grow in confidence, driving Naseem Shah to the deep point fence quite inventively, giving sound support to his partner Tom Blundell, who had worked his way to a second half-century in the match, making Pakistan pay for their errors in the field.

Pakistan’s spinners had started to trouble the well-set batting pair, as the surface had started to take a bit of grip, with the ball turning sharply somewhat frequently – whizzing past both batters on multiple occasions. Barring a cut by Blundell off Salman Ali Agha, boundaries had dried up for the Black Caps as Babar Azam continued to deploy spin from both ends in search of that fifth wicket.

After a gap of more than seven overs, Bracewell finally broke the shackles vs. Abrar Ahmed’s leg spin, first depositing the young mystery spinner to the deep extra cover boundary, followed by back-to-back fours in his next over – first hopping down the track for a hoick over mid-on, and then nailing one off the back foot through point, to reach his maiden Test fifty.

Blundell joined the party soon after, taking Abrar to the cleaners with a slog sweep for six, followed by a paddle for four behind the wicket, as Bracewell capped off the 15-run over with a skillful reverse sweep for yet another boundary.

With New Zealand’s lead nearing 300, Tom Blundell was finally dismissed after scoring 74 runs, holing out to Imam-ul-Haq at long-on, courtesy of a wild swing against Salman Ali Agha’s off-spin. The Kiwis were looking for some quick runs towards the end of the day’s play, with a declaration seeming imminent at any given moment.

It could have been curtains for Michael Bracewell in the same over as well, had it not been for a sloppy Sarfaraz Ahmed behind the stumps, who had now fluffed his second catch of the day, adding fuel to the argument that he was not fit to keep wicket in the longest format anymore.

In response, Bracewell fetched two more boundaries off Hassan Ali’s bowling before Sarfaraz missed a stumping to deny Salman Ali Agha a second wicket – Daryl Mitchell was the beneficiary in this instance. While his form with the bat had paid dividends, Sarfaraz had paid homage to Kamran Akmal in this series as far as his glovework was concerned.

Tim Southee relieved the former Pakistan captain of any further embarrassment, declaring the innings directly after, as the Black Caps settled for a target of 319 runs, which the men in green had 93 overs to chase down.

Under the fading Karachi sun, Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq walked out to the middle in a bid to see through the three remaining overs of Day 4. New Zealand’s skipper was having none of that, as with just his second delivery, he brought one into Abdullah Shafique, rattling his stumps with a ball that kept low to send the 23-year-old opener from Sialkot back to the pavilion without troubling the scorers.

To the utter dismay of Pakistan supporters, that was not the only wicket to fall before stumps, as Ish Sodhi cleaned up Mir Hamza with the final delivery of the day, which meant that the nightwatchman had bagged a pair in the Test match, leaving the home team completely shaken, with two down for zero runs at the close of play.

Pakistan were off to the worst possible start, as a jubilant New Zealand now required just eight more wickets to potentially win both the Test match and the series, with a full day’s play ahead of them. All of a sudden, a result was looking extremely likely, in a Test match that looked sure to end in a stalemate for the good part of four days – more so in favor of the touring side as opposed to the hosts. Given how this winter of Test cricket had panned out for Pakistan, you would best be advised to bet against them.