ABU DHABI TEST
Pakistan added only 62 runs for the last seven wickets © AFP
For the first time in the Abu Dhabi Test, Pakistan can be said to have the control of the match. They have checked all the desired boxes. A decent (considering the UAE standards) trail haunts the opposition, which has both of its openers back in the pavilion, and two of their most senior batsmen pulled off what they had been longing from them since the past year and a half. The third day was a good one for Pakistan.
Yet, there’s a worry.
Remember the excruciating four-run defeat at this very venue just some weeks ago? It was the third time in the past 18 months that Pakistan faltered in pursuit of a small target. But, it is not only their second innings failures that hold them.
The pair of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq kept the New Zealand bowlers at bay for the first half of the day. With their 201-run stand which lasted 72 overs, the pair, once considered MisYou surrogates, sort of lived up to the expectations. Their first centuries of 2018 not only brought Pakistan back in the contest but looked to have secured the series win. When they came out to stretch their stay at the crease after Lunch, a daunting first innings score looked inevitable.
But, then happened what is rapidly turning into a Pakistani batting trend: A first innings collapse.
It first happened this season when Nathan Lyon picked up Haris Sohail, Azhar, Shafiq and Babar Azam without conceding a run to leave Pakistan reeling at 57 for 5 in the second Australian Test. Then, it happened in the first Test of the series as Pakistan lost their last six wickets for 53 runs after having gone past New Zealand’s first innings score by 21 runs. This time, it unraveled in the afternoon session. Fun fact, all of these matches were at the same venue.
After Azhar gifted an easy catch to Ajaz Patel at short fine-leg to become William Somerville’s maiden Test scalp, Shafiq, 41 balls later, was trapped in front. What followed next was a typical tale of a Pakistani collapse. A bowler – this time debutant Somerville – who seemed innocuous turned into the most destructive of them all and any chances of resistance, no matter how bleak, were pounded by bizarre running between the wickets as the last seven Pakistani wickets added just 62 runs.
Another sure shot opportunity to set a daunting first innings’ lead went by.
“Definitely, there is [the disappointment for failing to post a good lead],” said Shafiq. “Azhar had gotten out before me so it became crucial for me to stay out there and forge a partnership which could have increased our lead. But, unfortunately, I got out immediately and we did not get any partnerships from there. Credit should be given to their bowlers for bowling really well from that point.”
Batting in the second innings is never easy. This is the case around the globe. By now, the conditions alter drastically in bowlers’ favour with the cracks opening. The same pitch that seemed like a road batting first now seems like a minefield. And if that is coupled with the psychological baggage of a first innings collapse it is bound to hamper a batsman’s efforts. Add a daunting target to it and it becomes a recipe for disaster for the side batting fourth.
Shaheen Afridi and Yasir Shah pulled Pakistan back in the contest as they accounted for the wickets of Jeet Raval and Tom Latham. With the pitch beginning to misbehave and the ball still new, which means both sharp bounce and seam movement for spinners and pacers respectively, Pakistan have the first session on Day Four to inflict as much damage as possible.
At Stumps, New Zealand’s most successful batsman on this tour, Kane Williamson, batted along with nightwatchman Somerville as the trail stands at 48 runs. With Henry Nicholls and BJ Watling already having shown their ability to pile up runs in the second innings this series, a tough task ahead is certain. But, there seems to be a plan this time to tackle it.
“We will try to get them out as soon as possible because batting in the fourth innings is never easy,” said Shafiq. We, as a batting unit, have not delivered the way we are supposed to in the last couple of games. We are very much aware of how we have to perform if we find ourselves in the same situation again. We will try to get the minimum total. Our bowlers have bowled well and our focus tomorrow would be to get wickets early on.”