Wagner, Boult swing Test New Zealand's way

  • Sports, Published on: Saturday 19th November 16 - 8:15pm

Test cricket is as much about execution of tactics as much as it is about planning. It allows teams the luxury of switching plans midway. In blunting 35 overs for a little over one run per over after restricting their first-innings deficit to 67, Pakistan ensured the new-ball storm was weathered. But their crawl allowed New Zealand to take the edge when they came out with renewed verve after tea on a bright and sunny day in Christchurch.

Neil Wagner, who bowled full and slanted the ball across in the hope of bringing the slip cordon into play before the interval, switched to his usual modus operandi of troubling batsmen with short balls aimed at the ribcage, and broke Pakistan's spine in the process. At 129 for 7 at stumps, ahead by 62, with just Asad Shafiq and the tail remaining, Pakistan were in danger of losing their second successive Test, barring an unlikely thunderstorm for the better part of the next two days.

Wagner triggered the turnaround when he caught Babar Azam on the hop on a couple of occasions before having him glove a bouncer down leg side to wicketkeeper BJ Watling to bring up his 100th Test wicket. Then, Younis Khan was put through a similar short-ball test, the disconcerting bounce pushing him deep into the crease to fend.

Did he anticipate the sucker ball? He may have, but in sticking to his short-ball tactic, Wagner outfoxed Younis, whose uncomfortable stay ended when he tried to get out of the way of a delivery that reared up to brush his gloves on its way through to Watling. A tiring Wagner, whose second spell read 11-5-9-2, made way for Trent Boult and Southee, whose relentless attacks kept the batsmen on their toes.

Azhar was reprieved when he chanced a risky run off a deflection at slip. However, the missed opportunity hardly affected New Zealand's body language as they stuck to their Plan B and were soon rewarded with the wicket of Misbah, when an attempted hook off Southee resulted in a catch to Boult at fine leg.

Three balls later, Azhar, after digging in for close to four hours, drove away from the body to get a thick inside edge onto the stumps. Boult then completed the big-ticket set when he got the ball to tail back in late to sneak past Sarfaz's defense and flatten the leg and middle stump. By then, the complexion of the game had already changed, enough to change the mood of the Pakistan camp from hope to despair.

The foundation for their rewards in the final session was laid before lunch. The two-hour passage didn't produce runs or wickets by the truckloads. Yet, nearly every ball was an event on a surface that offered just enough in terms of lateral movement. Pakistan lost Sami Aslam after nearly 18 overs of defiance, in which the opening pair added 21.

The first hour after lunch produced just 19 runs in 15 overs, with Southee, who bowled five successive maidens in a row, troubling the batsmen by swerving the ball away late. It was a classic case of pressure built at one end resulting in a release at the other when Colin de Grandhomme - whose cameo 29 helped New Zealand drive into the lead - picked up his seventh wicket on debut when Aslam's tentative push to a delivery that angled in and then deviated a little off the pitch resulted in a nick to Watling.

Boult, meanwhile, made optimum use of the crease through subtle change in angles from both over and around the wicket to trouble the batsman. All of this ensured the heat was well and truly on Pakistan despite them losing just one wicket in the session.

That Pakistan were able to restrict the deficit was largely due to Sohail Khan and Rahat Ali, who picked up seven wickets between them a New Zealand, resuming on 104 for 3, were bowled out for 200. None of the batsmen except de Grandhomme looked anywhere near comfortable.

Walking in after the overnight pair of Henry Nicholls and Jeet Raval, who top scored with 55, were dismissed inside four overs, de Grandhomme, who on Friday took the best figures by a New Zealander on debut, attacked. In hindsight, it wasn't a bad approach; the swagger and nonchalance in his strokes, briefly threw Pakistan off guard. His dismissal for 29 triggered a lower order collapse that gave Pakistan a fighting chance, but they couldn't capitalise against a troika of hostile and highly-skilled fast bowlers.

Pakistan 133 and 129 for 7 (Azhar 31, Azam 29, Boult 3-18, Wagner 2-21) lead New Zealand 200 (Raval 55, Nicholls 30, Rahat 4-62, Amir 3-43, Sohail 3-78) by 62 runs