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COMMENT: Evenly-poised series opener set for interesting finish

Updated November 19, 2018

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Pakistani captain and wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed (L) celebrates with teammate Yasir Shah (R) after dismissed New Zealand batsman Colin de Grandhomme (C) during the third day of the first Test cricket match between Pakistan and New Zealand at the Sheikh Zayed International Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on November 18, 2018. —AFP
Pakistani captain and wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed (L) celebrates with teammate Yasir Shah (R) after dismissed New Zealand batsman Colin de Grandhomme (C) during the third day of the first Test cricket match between Pakistan and New Zealand at the Sheikh Zayed International Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on November 18, 2018. —AFP

THE target set for Pakistan to get 176, and take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series, may appear to be no less than a piece of cake but for those who have faced such situations in Test cricket know that in matter of minutes its course can turn from one side to the other.

By pointing to the nature of twist and turn I do not mean that this Pakistan batting outfit isn’t geared up to stand the pressure of a fourth-innings run chase with another 139 runs still required with all wickets intact.

To be truthful I have a feeling that on a pitch as it is Sarfraz Ahmed and his men are highly unlikely to give up without denting New Zealand’s aspirations if they have a promising start to muscle in and then dictate from there on.

As this game has progressed so far, the wicket has not only slowed down but also has straightened up which was glaringly obvious when Henry Nicholls and B.J. Watling settled down for their dogged partnership of 112 to keep Pakistan wicketless in the second session of play.

It was only after that stand was broken that Pakistan bowlers struck dramatically by picking up the last six wickets for just 29 runs.

That obviously goes to the credit of Hasan Ali and Yasir Shah who shared all the 10 wickets equally between them.

I shall dread to see the character of the pitch change today and if the Pakistan batsmen bat sensibly and apply themselves to the task which is not as difficult as it looks they have this wonderful opportunity to go past the winning post without much fuss.

But cricket’s has its own unpredictability as we have experienced over the years when a possible victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat and that goes for both the teams fighting to take the upper hand.

In a low-scoring game, such as this one, a tight finish is always on the card and New Zealand have as much a chance to strike first as have Pakistan to go one up in the series.

It must be said though that Pakistan bowlers despite the disappointment of being unrewarded in the second session yesterday did not let the opportunity slip once the stubborn partnership was dislodged.

For this we ought to compliment the way Yasir and Hasan bamboozled the batsmen trapping them in front of the wicket and even cluttering their stumps at times.

The New Zealanders know too that this nomadic Pakistan side is on the roll having beaten Ireland, England, and Australia in the last six months and are in no mood to surrender easily.

With this in mind they would tread with care to defend their target today. This interestingly-poised match could go either way but I fancy Pakistan to go one up if they play their cards right.

No doubt after a fightback like the one we witnessed by Nicholls and Watling who both scored half-centuries, the New Zealanders have managed to play themselves back in the game.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2018

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