ANALYSIS: Farewell Bazball, we hardly knew ye.
For all the pronouncements – admittedly mostly from English cricket writers – that Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes are changing the game of test cricket irrevocably, most of the time it still remains the gritty grind that aficionados adore.
Two of England’s three victories in Pakistan earlier this month came with ample time to spare on day four. Across the Tasman last week, Australia routed South Africa within two days.
In Karachi, 10 wickets have fallen in two days in the first test between the hosts and New Zealand.
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* Pakistan captain Babar Azam stars after costly drop by Black Caps on day one of first test
It’s been a typical subcontinent test – from the dun-coloured, crack-embroidered wicket to the cloudless yet hazy sky and a surfeit of spin almost from the outset.
To be fair to New Zealand’s openers, neither Devon Conway nor Tom Latham were in danger of being mistaken for Chris Tavare and Geoffrey Boycott on day two.
With some generous field settings and toothless bowling, the duo scored at 3.51 runs per over to ensure at least a glimmer of a result other than a draw can still be considered.
There might be chaos in Pakistan cricket, but it’s chiefly off-field, with changes in chairman and chief of selectors – and a new coach (Mickey Arthur, same as the old coach) looming when Mushtaq Ahmed’s contract expires after New Zealand’s tour.
On the field, Pakistan – often the masters of mayhem – have been more vanilla than an early ’90s rapper.
Most of the excitement and speed in Pakistan’s 3-0 series defeat to England was provided by the visitors, with the hosts acting as an ineffective judder bar.
With New Zealand their opposition, Pakistan took a smooth and sensible-paced path through Babar Azam, Sarfaraz Ahmed and Agha Salman, after the skip-down-the-wicket nonsense of Abdullah Shafique and Shan Masood provided the most eye-popping initial scenes since Saving Private Ryan.
Pakistan’s day two game plan was undeniably altered by losing Babar fourth ball and for the rest of the opening session on day two, they appeared hesitant to attempt to take the game by the horns, still bruised by the bashing England inflicted.
Southee endeavored to find a method which would put his side in the driver’s seat, and had clearly done his homework on what had gone before – in the first hour with Nauman showing no interest in run accumulation, he employed a field featuring a slip, short gully, silly mid-off, short extra-cover, short cover and short midwicket, as Stokes had often done.
But with 15 minutes left before lunch, an aerial shot of the ground looked to show the vultures were circling for the visitors, yet the introduction of Neil Wagner opened up an end that his team-mates continued to chip away at, with the veteran left -armer rarely threatening following that breakthrough.
Playing his first test in four years, Ish Sodhi looked like a legspinner playing his first test in four years.
He looked more likely than anyone else on day two to take a wicket, ending with 2-87 from his 21 overs and could have doubled that haul with a little better fortune.
But he also bowled more loose deliveries than anyone else, making him a minor liability in a war of attrition.
When New Zealand batted, any predicted fireworks from the home side quickly fizzed as Abrar Ahmed’s googly proved notably less effective against the two left-handed openers, when bowling over the wicket.
Conway and Latham had done their homework pre-test, but it didn’t stop them doing further study during their partnership. Both non-striking batters intensely eyed Abrar’s hand as he delivered and then rapidly switched to what the ball did as it pitched, with the advice from the lessons then voiced to the batter at the other end.
It was Conway’s maiden test experience in Asia, yet it seems not to matter where he plays, or what format it is, as he went past 1000 runs faster than any blink in New Zealand test history.