Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Zealand v Pakistan, Second Test, Basin Reserve, 18 January 2011 (fourth day)


The expected deluge threatened the Basin for most of the day, but cost us only 23 minutes for a light shower after tea, and that was made up at the end of the day. The price we had to pay was thick humidity of a kind that we rarely experience in Wellington, and tend to regard as an Auckland affectation. For part of the day it appeared that all the game wanted to do was to have a cool drink and a lie down. Nevertheless, an intriguing final day has been set up, in defiance of the meteorologists.

Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill batted through the morning for New Zealand's first century opening partnership at the Basin in nine years. McCullum increased the pace of the innings as the morning went on, and cut brutally. When he was out for 64 just after lunch, things went quiet. Kane Williamson made a typically well-organised 15. If he had a winter job in an office, his desk would be the tidiest, and he'd be fantastic at filing. Here, his focus was on batting correctly rather than moving things on, which is exactly what it should be for a 20-year-old Test No 3.

Guptill was out soon after Williamson, for 73. It was an admirable innings and he became more confident in playing shots square of the wicket as it progressed. But he didn't have another gear to move up to, which is odd for a man who was first noticed as a one-day strokeplayer. I wrote the other day that ideally he and Williamson would be left to develop at Nos 5 and 6 and the responsibility of opening seems to have curtailed his natural flair. It will be interesting to see how quickly he adjusts to the 50-over game at the weekend.

It was something of a relief that Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder came together before tea to inject some urgency into proceedings. Ryder came in on a king pair, and had been out first ball in the second innings at Hamilton too. He did his best to oblige the bowler and the statisticians by shaping to cut a straight ball, but adjusted the shot just in time. Even during a poor run, Ryder has the gift of making cricket seem a simple game. Today he got off the pair by crashing a four over mid-wicket, with a six following in the same direction shortly thereafter.

But he had not escaped the first-ball hoodoo. Facing part-time off spinner Mohammad Hafeez, Ryder waved past the first ball after tea, only to see it collide with the off stump. Hafeez extracted more turn from the pitch than Abdur Rehman, who is accurate, but spears it in. The offie had Franklin caught behind in short order and the aim of the innings was transformed from pushing on to set a target to collapse prevention.

Taylor, approaching top form once more, held things together and kept the score moving at around three an over. He was well supported by Reece Young, whose second Test appearance is a vast improvement on his first.

A flurry of wickets fell in the final half-hour leaving New Zealand all out, a good thing as it removes the temptation to bat on in the morning. New Zealand has to win the match to draw the series, so must take all the risks. Pakistan's target is 274, which is as finely balanced as can be, if only the rain stays away.

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