ABU DHABI: Leg-spinner Yasir Shah is set to become the fastest to reach 200 Test wickets as he holds the key for Pakistan to win the series-deciding third and final Test against New Zealand starting in Abu Dhabi from Monday.
The 32-year-old needs just five wickets to shatter Australian leg-spinner Clarrie Grimmett’s record of completing 200 wickets in 36 Tests, way back in 1936.
That will be icing on the cake as Pakistan hope Yasir — whose 14-wicket match haul crushed New Zealand to an innings and 16 run defeat in the second Test in Dubai — can come good again.
Yasir took eight wickets in the first Test here at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium but Pakistan fell agonisingly short, losing by four runs before levelling the series at 1-1.
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed agreed hopes are pinned on Yasir, who has 195 wickets in 32 Tests.
“The way Yasir is bowling he has got his rhythm back and we hope that with the return of his form he will do his best to win us this Test and the series,” Sarfraz told a media conference on Sunday.
Until last year the Sheikh Zayed Stadium had been a happy hunting ground for Pakistan, having won six of the 10 Tests with four draws. But since then they lost to Sri Lanka in 2017 and against New Zealand in the series opener after set low targets of 136 and 176 runs respectively, a fact Sarfraz said hurt his team.
“We need to bat long and that we did in the last Test,” said Sarfraz whose team put a big 418-5 declared in Dubai. “The toss will again be a crucial factor because in Asia teams like to bat first and post big totals.”
Besides Yasir, Pakistan will also hope fast-rising left-arm pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi gives them edge, replacing seamer Mohammad Abbas who is ruled out with a shoulder injury.
The 18-year-old speedster took back-to-back four wicket hauls in the 1-1 drawn One-day International series against New Zealand last month before getting seven wickets against England Lions in the four-day unofficial Test, which was played at the adjacent Sheikh Zayed Stadium Nursery 1 ground.
“Shaheen is improving day by day and has talent,” said Sarfraz of the teenager who is a giant six and a half feet tall.
Pakistan are mulling the option of playing a third paceman after naming Faheem Ashraf — the all-rounder who has yet to play a Test in the UAE — in the 12-man squad on Sunday with off-spinner Bilal Asif the likely omission after having claimed just two wickets in 56 overs across the first two Tests against New Zealand.
Sarfraz admitted that New Zealand can be dangerous as they have the motivation to win an away series against Pakistan for the first time since 1969-70.
“New Zealand is a good team with experienced players who know Test cricket well,” the Pakistan captain pointed out. “They have good bowlers so we will also try to play good cricket.”
New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson, meanwhile, admitted Yasir will be a dangerous proposition for his side.
“He [Yasir] is a world class bowler and there’s no doubt about his status,” Williamson told reporters. “He clearly had a fantastic last game and bowled a number of very nice deliveries and used the conditions really, really well.”
New Zealand will gain confidence from their second innings batting with return to form of veteran righter Ross Taylor who made 81 and the left-handers Henry Nicholls (77) and Tom Latham (50).
“There were some positives [from the second Test] we would need to build from,” said Williamson of his team’s 312 all out in the second innings. “It’s really an exciting prospect and the guys really are looking forward to the decider.”
New Zealand have the option of resting Trent Boult and bringing in Tim Southee or Matt Henry, both of whom have yet to play in the series.
PAKISTAN: Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Imam-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, Haris Sohail, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Yasir Shah, Bilal Asif, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Faheem Ashraf.
NEW ZEALAND: Kane Williamson (captain), Jeet Raval, Tom Blundell, Tom Latham, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, B.J. Watling, Colin de Grandhomme, Ish Sodhi, Neil Wagner, Ajaz Patel, Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Matt Henry, Will Somerville.
Umpires: Ian Gould (England) and Paul Reiffel (Australia).
TV umpire: Bruce Oxenford (Australia).
Match referee: Javagal Srinath (India).
Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2018