Pakistan barbecue 176 run-chase in thrill-a-minute Abu Dhabi defeat

Mickey Arthur’s facial expression plotted against Pakistan’s predicament wasn’t the only geometry Abu Dhabi had to offer. The fourth day’s play was a major throwback to the many run-chases Pakistan have barbecued over the years, and a testament to how they can still manage to, putting the consistency of a clock and the boredom of our lives to shame. Needing 139 with ten wickets in hand at the start of day’s play, Pakistan anaesthetised a 82-run partnership between Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali to be bowled out for 171, handing New Zealand a thrilling, even unexpected, four-run win.
Debuting left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel racked up his maiden five-wicket haul, which always looked imminent once he beat Mohammad Hafeez three times in the first over of the day. Two maidens in a row bought a wicket in the third, when Imam-ul-Haq, who had raced Pakistan’s chase off the block just last evening, was pinned LBW in front. Ish Sodhi backed up with two wickets in the next over, scalping Hafeez at cover and Haris Sohail caught-and-bowled to set the cat among the pigeons.
A manic first thirty minutes, in which three wickets fell for eight runs, ushered possibly the least heart-stopping phase of play today. Azhar Ali and Shafiq, then tasked more with Pakistan’s survival than their pursuit of a win, manoeuvred through the situation with utmost cool, and looked to be steering Pakistan towards a well-deserved win. Or so one thought then, taken by Arthur’s very affirming countenance.
New Zealand’s continued barrage of spin and Trent Boult’s card-tricks had started to bore when Neil Wagner provided the mother of all breakthroughs, getting Shafiq caught behind off a short ball on the stroke of lunch. And Pakistan imploded soon after, stamping Arthur’s face with an irreversible deadpan.
Eerily how most collapses start with a run-out, Pakistan’s did too. In the fifth over after lunch, Babar Azam was a personification of how not to call in cricket and lost his wicket to an abominable run-out involving Azhar Ali. Pakistan were still well-placed at 154/5 until Sarfraz Ahmed let out a catastrophic sweep against Patel an over later, and was dismissed on 3, leaving Pakistan 22 runs to get with four wickets in hands. Arthur’s wide eyes were into overdrive but there was still hope. Bilal Asif, Yasir Shah and Hasan Ali can at least hold an end taut, if not help Pakistan get those 22 runs, right?
Wrong.
All three were dismissed for shocking ducks, none more than Bilal Asif’s overambitious slog against Patel’s inviting flight that saw his stumps shattered. Azhar Ali hoisted his 30th half-century in the middle of all this, as if to recompense for Pakistan’s not one but three mad blood rushes, and was his side’s only shot at an unlikely win. Pakistan needed 12 runs with one wicket in hand. How did they get to this? And how did Arthur get to nervously pacing the dressing room?
Mohammad Abbas, uncharacteristically without a wicket in the third innings, compensated with what Hasan Ali, Yasir and Asif didn’t have to offer. He allowed Azhar Ali to sneak a single for seven straight overs, taking Pakistan within touching distance of the target. It was Patel who put the kibosh on Azhar Ali lone fight by getting him out LBW. Umpire’s call added to the drama but New Zealand had what they needed: the on-field decision and now a one-nil lead in the three match series.
What makes this win special for New Zealand is that it follows their shambolic batting effort in the first innings, which saw them bowled out for 153 – the lowest first-innings total in Abu Dhabi. Trent Boult’s four-wicket haul helped curb Pakistan’s lead, which was then dwarfed by a defiant 112-run stand between Henry Nicholls and BJ Watling, setting New Zealand up to defend their second-lowest score in Test cricket.
Brief Score: New Zealand 153 (Kane Williamson 63; Yasir Shah 3-54) & 249 (BJ Watling 59, Henry Nicholls 55; Hasan Ali 5-45, Yasir Shah 5-110) beat Pakistan 227 (Babar Azam 62; Trent Boult 4-54) & 171 (Azhar Ali 65; Ajaz Patel 5-59) by 4 runs.