New Zealand took nine wickets in a dramatic final session, sealing a 2-0 series whitewash as Pakistan collapsed against the second new ball to slump to a 138-run defeat. When the final session began, the draw seemed the likeliest result by far, and a New Zealand win perhaps less likely than a Pakistan win. With a minimum of 34 overs left, Pakistan needed 211, with nine wickets in hand. Those nine wickets fell in the space of 24.3 overs, the last six to the second new ball in the space of 11 overs.
On a pitch that offered little help to the bowlers apart from occasionally inconsistent bounce – which became less of a factor as the ball aged – New Zealand gave themselves a chance by playing the waiting game as Pakistan plotted a heist of their own. Pakistan had chased down two 300-plus targets in the last two years, both times against Sri Lanka – 302 in two sessions in Sharjah, and 377 in Pallekele. Here, chasing 369, Azhar Ali and Sami Aslam added 131 for the first wicket in 60 overs to set them a platform for a possibly Sharjah-esque finish.
With the required rate creeping past six an over at the start of the final session, Kane Williamson’s tactics began to yield their desired results. His defensive fields had kept Pakistan in the game without letting them get too close, and now, they asked the batsmen to take risks.
Babar Azam, going after a wide, flighted ball from Mitchell Santner, dragged the ball onto his stumps, replicating Azhar’s dismissal before tea. Aslam, failing to get elevation while looking to clear mid-off, fell ten short of a maiden Test hundred. Then Sarfraz Ahmed was run out, looking to steal a suicidal second run. Pakistan were suddenly four down, with the new ball three overs away.
New Zealand took it as soon as it was available, and brought their field in, with the target now well beyond Pakistan: 169 in 21 overs. Tim Southee and Matt Henry had barely swung the first new ball. They began swinging the second one appreciably. Younis Khan, tentative right through the series and out chasing a wide ball in the first innings, chased again an edged Southee wide of gully.
Then Henry struck in his first over with the new ball, angling it into Asad Shafiq and curling it away late. Looking to play the initial angle, Shafiq closed his bat face and popped a catch to point off the leading edge. Twenty balls later, Younis thrust his pad out at a Southee inswinger. Umpire S Ravi turned down the bowler’s appeal, but was forced to change his decision when New Zealand reviewed and ball-tracking showed the ball carrying on to hit the top of off stump.
At the crease now were a debutant, Mohammad Rizwan, and a lower-order batsman known more for slogging than defending, Sohail Khan, with 16.3 overs remaining. They held out long enough to prompt a bowling change, Henry giving way to the gentler pace of Colin de Grandhomme, but Sohail drove without moving his feet and spooned a catch to cover.
Eleven overs remained; Pakistan would only last 13 more balls, as Neil Wagner, coming on for Southee, blasted out the last three. He took out his fellow left-arm quicks, Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz, in the space of three balls, both nicking him to the keeper, before ending the game with the first ball of his next over, banging the ball in and forcing the No. 11 Imran Khan to fend to short leg.
Rizwan, having fallen for a golden duck in his first Test innings, remained not out on 13 in his second. In hindsight, he may have wished he hadn’t taken a single off the first ball of Wagner’s spell and exposed Pakistan’s tail to his pace and bounce.
Given the start their openers made, Pakistan would never have expected their tail to strap their pads on. By staying in the middle as long as they did, Azhar and Aslam seemed to have ticked off the first box in the team’s checklist: that of ensuring they wouldn’t lose.
Sami Aslam fell ten runs short of a maiden Test hundred © Getty Images
With roughly four sessions of the Test match lost to rain, there was less wear and tear on the Seddon Park pitch than a typical fifth-day surface. There wasn’t much swing either, forcing Southee into bowling cross-seam within the first ten minutes of the day in an effort to rough up one side of the ball.
Up-and-down bounce was the one major threat to Azhar and Aslam. Henry sneaked a shortish ball under Azhar’s bat in the 12th over of Pakistan’s innings, narrowly missing off stump, and then, in the 16th over, hit him on the glove with one that lifted from a good length. In the next over, Neil Wagner got a short ball to keep low as well, forcing Azhar to defend his stumps with a hurried jab with both feet off the ground.
Wagner, typically, looked to test the openers with the short ball, using the angles adroitly and often, especially while bowling from left-arm around, delivering from as close to the return crease as humanly possible. Both batsmen handled him with a degree of ease, except for one instance when Aslam took his eye off the ball as it followed him from over the wicket and hit him on the side of the helmet.
Both batsmen looked to play as straight as possible, with the threat of the shooter at the back of their minds, and this contributed to the glacial pace of run-scoring at the start of the day’s play. After 20 overs, Pakistan had only scored 21.
Then, at the start of the 21st over, a bouncer from Wagner ran away for five wides and began a slight shift in the pattern of play. Azhar drove Henry for a four to the right of mid-off, and both batsmen sent square-cuts flying to the boundary in the next couple of overs. Aslam brought up the fifty stand in the 27th over, flicking Wagner to the backward square leg boundary, and soon afterwards sent a top-edged sweep off Mitchell Santner over the square-leg rope.
The openers didn’t quite sustain the acceleration through the first half of the post-lunch session, scoring only 19 runs in the first 10 overs. As drinks approached, they began looking for sharp singles, and a more accurate throw from Henry Nicholls at short midwicket could have sent back Aslam in the 50th over. The drinks break provoked a distinct change in approach. Aslam pulled Wagner to the square-leg boundary, and then picked up two fours towards fine leg in one over from Henry, the first one a flick that went finer than intended, the second an inside-edged cover-drive.
In all, Pakistan scored 51 in 13 overs after the drinks break, and were 158 for 1 at tea. Aslam was batting on 75, Azam on 16 off 23 balls, and their minds must have been busy calculating run rates and figuring out which boundaries to target after the break. Neither they nor their team-mates nor their opponents could have imagined what was to follow.