Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Zealand v Pakistan, Second Test, Basin Reserve, 19 January 2011 (fifth day)
How much closer to bliss can you be than to have watched all five days of a Test match and still find all results possible at tea on the final day? Admittedly, if that statement were tested it might be found that it was only true in a parallel universe in which the New Zealand attack was capable of taking 20 wickets in a game, but even so, there was more pleasure to be experienced by being at the Basin for the past five days than a sackful of T20s could provide. The result was a draw, the possibility of which is said to be Test cricket's flaw, but which actually gives it a dimension that no other sport has.

The first hour of the day was New Zealand's, the rest Pakistan's. Three wickets had fallen by noon, two to Chris Martin in a fine opening spell from the northern end. With Pakistan's batting New Zealand's closest rival in collapsability, it seemed that the game would be wrapped up by mid-afternoon but Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq had a contrary view. They put on 118 for the fourth wicket, separated only when Younis suffered a lapse of concentration on the point of tea. His dismissal cost Pakistan victory. He had been batting so well that only a marginal increase in tempo after tea would have taken the game.

Misbah-ul-Haq continued with the doggedness that he had adopted throughout the partnership, to which he contributed 37 compared with 81 from Younis. It was faintly disappointing, but entirely understandable, that no attempt was made to have a hit at the target once the draw seemed secure, but the prize of Pakistan's first series victory since 2006, and the first outside Asia for eight years, was too precious to have the safest of punts on. It was a personal triumph for Misbah who was appointed on the last-man-standing principle, the chalice not so much poisoned as fashioned from nuclear waste. By all accounts he is a good man who deserves his success. Geoff Lawson, one of the many to have held the post of Pakistan coach over the past few years, describes him as having the best cricket brain in Pakistan. For the ODI series to follow, the captaincy reverts to the more excitable Shahid Afridi.

It was a disappointing day for New Zealand, and in particular for Daniel Vettori, who took only one, late wicket. Over the past few years he has failed every time he has had the opportunity to bowl out a side on a turning wicket in the second innings. There was turn here as Mohammad Hafeez demonstrated on the fourth day, but Vettori could not find it, looking a bit of a sixth-day bowler. It seems that he will be remembered as a great one-day bowler (he is currently a street ahead in the ICC ODI rankings), but as a primarily defensive Test bowler. It could be that he goes down as New Zealand's Kapil Dev, someone who took stacks of wickets by bowling for a long time in a team short of bowling talent. I rather hope that he does not hang around long enough to become New Zealand's leading Test wicket taker (he has 345, 86 short of Richard Hadlee's record), as that should be in the hands of a great bowler. The most promising young spinner in New Zealand is none other than Kane Williamson, and he should not be the receptacle for all our hopes.

As for the rest of the attack, I stand by my earlier view that the admirable Chris Martin is fading into the sunset. He seems to be entirely dependent on the new ball to make things happen, and may be destined to go out with 199 wickets. Brent Arnel does not appear to have his captain's confidence, and his captain is probably right. Jimmy Franklin is in danger of passing, as Michael Foot said of David Steel, from being a promising newcomer to an elder statesmen with no intervening period.

The great hope of New Zealand fast bowling is Neil Wagner, a South African who completes his qualification period soon (but not in time for the World Cup, alas). He bowls sharp and accurate left-arm fast for Otago and looks ready to step up. There is also Adam Milne of Central Districts who shifts it at 150 kph, but he is only 18 and must not be rushed.

We should be getting excited about the third Test now, but there isn't one, a six-game ODI series building up our stamina for the interminable World Cup instead. I'll be at the Cake Tin on Saturday trying to look excited.

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