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The Bulletin by Siddhartha Talya
January 8, 2011
Pakistan 235 for 4 (Shafiq 74*, Misbah 50*) trail New Zealand 275 (Southee 56, Williamson 50, Ahmed 4-63) by 40 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Pakistan retained the advantage in the Hamilton Test with their batsmen edging out a testing battle against the New Zealand bowlers on a placid surface more deserving of a one-sided contest. Middle-order batsmen Asad Shafiq and Misbah-ul-Haq batted patiently to rebuild Pakistan's reply to 275, which had lost track in the session before tea against a determined spell from the seamers. The pair provided stability to the innings and set the platform for a lead with an unbeaten 128-run stand that has eased the burden on the inexperienced line-up to follow.
The bowling was unthreatening, the conditions even more so with the virtual absence of swing and movement. Such a situation lent itself to a waiting game, one that New Zealand appeared to have an upper hand in after Taufeeq Umar and Younis Khan brought about their own downfall post lunch. Misbah and Shafiq played their own waiting game, assured that the pitch would have little role to play in their dismissals and aware that a bad ball wasn't too far away with New Zealand rotating their bowlers. Both were opportunistic, Shafiq more so than Misbah, helping offset any extended period of quiet with the occasional boundary and taking their team closer to the first-innings target.
Shafiq found the boundaries with ease on a quick outfield, clipping and driving the seamers through midwicket and fine leg and using his feet well against spin. He charged out to Daniel Vettori to loft him over mid-on, rocked on the back foot to punch Kane Williamson through the covers and stepped out to part-timer Martin Guptill to smote him over midwicket. Too often did the seamers bowl on his pads - his fifty was brought up with a tickle to fine leg - but he also scored through off, driving through point and cover.
Misbah's intention was to occupy the crease and he did that well with his solidity in defence and not feeling compelled to force the pace with a fluent partner at the other end. He's been Pakistan's in-form batsman in Tests with three half-centuries in four innings against South Africa, and a century in the warm-up match prior to this. His first major expansive shot, quite inexplicably, came towards the end of the day; a slog-sweep for six off Williamson. He then went a notch higher, reverse-sweeping the same bowler successive boundaries to reach his half-century just two overs before stumps. For the bulk, Misbah ceded floor to Shafiq and secured one end for Pakistan.
The pair built on the efforts of the Pakistan seamers, who brought about an early conclusion to New Zealand's innings on the second morning, and Taufeeq. Tim Southee and Williamson had set up frustrated Pakistan with a fighting stand to save New Zealand the embarrassment of being bowled out for under 200 on a track full of runs. But their resistance ended this morning when Pakistan's seamers made up for the lack of purchase from the pitch by ruffling the batsmen up with short deliveries.
When the time came to defend 275, New Zealand's bowlers were guilty of doling out freebies on the pads, Chris Martin particularly, and Taufeeq duly dispatched them. Martin was struck for three boundaries in an over, through midwicket, square leg and mid-on, while Brent Arnel paid for dropping too short, slashed and pulled to the ropes.
Post lunch, however, New Zealand bowled better. Lengths were rethought and both Martin and Arnel targeted the good-length area, and angled the ball in by bowling round the wicket to the left-hander. Taufeeq, who had dealt in boundaries, became more restrained and didn't help himself when he struggled to middle the ball when opportunities came his way. He lost a solid partner in Azhar Ali not too long after lunch, and that gave New Zealand an opening.
Taufeeq fought through his frustration by reaching his first half-century since 2003 by guiding Arnel to the third-man boundary, while at the other end Younis injected some urgency to the innings. Like Taufeeq had done before lunch, Younis went after Martin, opening the face to square-drive him thrice for fours and flicking him to the fine-leg boundary.
But just when it seemed Pakistan were emerging out of a difficult phase, they put themselves back into one. Taufeeq played a loose flick straight to midwicket, and Younis closed the face too early to spoon a catch back to the bowler. It was Arnel who dismissed the pair, leaving it to the captain Misbah and Shafiq to rebuild.
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Would he have fared better than the incumbent middle-order batsmen, Root and Ballance?