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December 3, 2009
The weather took time to clear up and New Zealand took time to wake up, but by the end of a shortened, disrupted first day at what was the Basin Reserve's 50th Test, both had taken firm hold of this match.
Incessant rains over the last few days had forced both sides to practice indoors in the run-in and a wet outfield delayed the start until lunch. Overcast conditions, a pitch only just uncovered and some bounce quickly lulled Daniel Vettori into sending Pakistan in after winning the toss. And after an unusual first bout of Pakistan control, New Zealand struck back to leave Pakistan at 161 for 6, bad light stopping play early.
Pakistan made two changes to their batting order after the limpness of their first Test display, bringing in Salman Butt and Misbah-ul-Haq to solidify their spine. But the inherent timidity in their senior players - and the ineptitude of some - surfaced again, as they lost the opportunity of a rare opening platform. A familiar story of uncertain prods outside off, awkward encounters with short balls, airy swishes and brain-dead shots unfolded thereafter, 60 for none dwindling to an inadequate first day total.
On balance New Zealand deserved their reward, if only because they came back so well after Butt and Imran Farhat had made Vettori's decision to bowl first look misguided early. Whether Vettori himself would have expected to end up with three wickets on a pitch offering as much turn as an ice-rink might to an early 90s Anil Kumble is open to question, but the spark for the revival was provided by the pacemen.
Things had looked difficult more than halfway into the afternoon session. First up, everyone seemed to agree that there would be mischief in the air and pitch. There wasn't. Chris Martin and Daryl Tuffey - looking every inch a man returning to Tests after nearly five years - had been tight, nothing more. Nothing moved off the pitch and the bounce was true and good. Not that it made much of a difference to the openers, as roused as two turtles on Valium.
Carefully, reluctantly, they battled through, the odd boundary signaling growing comfort, but they never broke away decisively. A nervy equilibrium had been reached by the time they put on a second fifty stand in six Tests as a combination; they have a century partnership as well, which in Pakistan's context makes them Haynes-Greenidge-esque. It had taken time - the first hour produced 32 runs and the 50 came up just before the second drinks break in the 24th over - but the situation was quite dory, if not entirely hunky.
It was only after that break, however, that New Zealand finally got with it. Martin, Tuffey and right-arm blogger Iain O'Brien may not match Shane Bond for impact, but they are persevering, under-rated men. Having bowled either the wrong line or length initially, they returned to more basic plans. Tuffey went short, and O'Brien reaped the benefit, Butt pulling loosely straight up to the skies. Fear - and Vettori - now took hold, as the captain lodged himself at one end, and let the pacemen relish the right lengths at the other.
In one over came two realisations; Farhat remembered first that he is not perhaps, after all, an international batsman of any quality, lazily cutting to slip. And then, that Vettori's arm ball is deadly, as he trapped Mohammad Yousuf. As is the way, the ball suddenly began to swing and cut a little, though perhaps that was because both O'Brien and Tuffey hit proper lengths.
In a move that confirmed many sad things about Pakistan, bluntest among them that none of their senior batsmen had the guts to front up at that spot, Umar Akmal was thrown in at one-down. Reports from New Zealand yesterday suggested that all senior batsmen had refused to move there, so Umar, presumably, was offered for sacrifice. He was a changed man and O'Brien was just about to have him for brunch, leaving him rooted with movement and surprising him too often with bounce, before tea rudely intervened.
Umar sped along after tea, like some crazy, brave firefly glowing madly but always in danger of going out. Just when he seemed to be settling, however, Tuffey undid him with a peach that hit off. As the bowlers continued to probe, fear was replaced by stupidity, as two men supposedly more experienced holed out to shots that should condemn at least one of them. Faisal Iqbal will wonder which God he ever upset if Pakistan continues to think Shoaib Malik worthy of more Test opportunities than him; Malik's slap to mid-off should, ideally, put an end to that farce.
Just before bad light intervened, there was enough time for Misbah to prove again that all the world's MBAs and domestic experience cannot iron out his tendency to getting out at the worst possible time, in the worst possible way. Vettori would have been smiling anyway at the way the day turned, but Misbah's ugly sweep would have left him laughing.
Coloured clothes, black sightscreens, two white balls: the game of cricket looked so different in 1992. But writing about it now seems more fun than watching it then