Monday, January 17, 2011

New Zealand v Pakistan, Second Test, Basin Reserve, 17 January 2011 (third day)

For the first two sessions of the day not much happened, but it didn't happen in a way that was most agreeable. It was a lovely day at the Basin, with blue sky and the wind a mere zephyr in Wellington terms, certainly no more than a force six. The umpires were suckered into bringing out the Panamas again. Daryl Harper had no problems (I suspect illicit use of Velcro), but sure enough Rod Tucker's brim was back in his firm grasp after lunch.

With New Zealand's protracted New Year holiday drawing gradually to a close, today was as close to a working day as we will see this side of February, so the crowd was thinner than it was on the first two days, but still sufficient to create a pleasant, low-key atmosphere, similar to a sunny day during a Maidstone Week of two or three decades ago.

Azhar Ali was surprised by a sharp lifter from Chris Martin to be caught at first slip before he had added to his overnight score. Martin produced a similar ball to dismiss Abdur Rehman, but that was almost six hours later, and in between times he looked like a bowler who might very well be playing his last home Test, though he did pick up another two wickets including Misbah-ul-Haq.

The rest of the morning and the whole of the middle session was occupied with a stand of 142 for the fourth wicket between Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. It proceeded at a measured pace but contained sufficient elegance (especially from Younis) to satisfy the connoisseur.

It ended on the stroke of tea when Younis was given out caught at short leg off Vettori. Perhaps Tucker's hat got in his eyes, as the big screen replay meant that everybody in the ground shared the batsman's view that his bat had got nowhere near the ball, even before he had even left the field. The dismissal was a turning point in the day, and possibly the game, and (explaining this to the ICC provides an insight into how Basil Fawlty felt as he tried to get Manuel to understand why he had to get rid of his Siberian hamster) showed yet again why the decision referral scheme should be used in all international games.

After tea it was as if the valium that had been dripfed into the match so far had been replaced by adrenalin. 90 runs were rattled up as six wickets fell, to give Pakistan a first-innings lead of 20. Misbah-ul-Haq fell to nerves on 99, wandering across his stumps to be trapped lbw as he attempted to force a single into the onside, the first premeditated shot he had played all innings. Remarkably, he is the first batsman ever dismissed one short of a century in the 52 Tests played at the Basin.

Vettori finished with four for 100 from 47 overs, and was not in the least flattered by those figures. He exercised control throughout and received almost no help from the placid pitch. Apart from him the attack was insipid, though Southee bowled a testing spell with the second new ball.

The weather forecast for the next two days is such that just down the road at Wellington Zoo they are already lining up their charges two-by-two, but the thought occurs that by finishing off the Pakistan innings so efficiently in the final session, New Zealand have created sufficient time for a characteristic implosion that will lose the game, but that goes to show how the cruelty of experience has made pessimists of us in this part of the world.

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