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The Bulletin by Sriram Veera
December 14, 2009
This chameleon game changed character yet again late on the fourth day. Mohammad Yousuf was serenely moving towards what seemed an inevitable hundred when he fell to crack open the game to several thrilling possibilities. New Zealand hold the advantage and are the frontrunners to pull off something special in Napier, but with its frail batting line-up pitted against the mercurial Pakistan bowling, who knows what can happen if the target is around 200.
On a stop-start day, interrupted constantly by rain, Pakistan had threatened to shoot themselves in the foot by gifting wickets to Martin Guptill, before they rallied through a 128-run stand between Yousuf and Faisal Iqbal. The sun kept peeping in and out of the clouds, Faisal alternated between nervous edginess and flamboyance, but Yousuf draped an elegantly solid hue on proceedings. His innings appeared to have seemingly pushed Pakistan towards safety when he fell to make matters more interesting.
Though the morning's play was filled with drama it was freakish in nature, and it was in the afternoon that the real contest between bat and ball began. Iain O'Brien and Daniel Vettori bowled as well as they could on a flat pitch but Yousuf stood firm. The caressed square-drives on a stretched front foot, the stylish flicks and the authoritative punches off the back foot were all showcased against the seamers but it was his battle with Vettori that stood out.
There was one piece of action which perfectly caught the spirit of the contest between the two: Yousuf came down the track but Vettori cleverly slowed the pace and shortened the length. However, Yousuf waited to adjust to the lack of pace, and though he couldn't reach the pitch of the ball, he didn't panic or lunge out; instead he almost nonchalantly wafted through the line and found enough power and timing to lift it over long-on. Vettori used the crease well, varied his pace and utilised the arm-ball intelligently but Yousuf handled him with aplomb. He moved forward or back as the length demanded and picked the arm ball on most occasions.
Faisal was nowhere near as solid as Yousuf but he fought on to score a valuable fifty. His iffy footwork meant he was caught on the crease a few times and was forward when he should have been back, but he soldiered on. He was even dropped on 48 when he edged O'Brien straight to Ross Taylor, but he punctuated his nervy shots with a few extravagant cover drives. It was an innings in which he delighted and frustrated equally before he fell, guiding Martin to Taylor, who held on this time.
Umar Akmal walked in and played a breezy innings filled with cuts, pulls and a few plays and misses.It also contained the most audacious shot of the day - a delightfully flamboyant and whippy bottom-hand-powered six over long-on off Darryl Tuffey. The afternoon, though, was a calm affair when compared with the events that preceded it.
If the English fast bowler Fred Trueman were alive and commentating on the game this morning, we would surely have heard his legendary phrase: "I just don't know what's going off out there". Nothing Pakistan do shocks anyone any more but even their die-hard followers would have raised their eyebrows when Guptill, who had not bowled a ball before this game in Test cricket and has just a solitary first-class wicket, removed the openers in quick succession to leave Pakistan wobbling.
It was a bizarre and fascinating little first session of play. What made Vettori open the bowling with Guptill? More importantly, what were Pakistan's openers thinking? Not much, if you go on the available evidence. When Guptill tossed the third delivery of the day outside off stump, there wasn't anything deceptive in its trajectory. It was a gentle, perhaps a bit loopy, delivery that floated harmlessly outside off but Salman Butt scooped it back to the bowler. The bottom-hand had kicked in too much and he couldn't keep the off drive down.
Batsmen do make mistakes and irregular bowlers do pick up lucky wickets, but surely Guptill couldn't do it again? Wrong. He flighted, nay floated, a full toss in the seventh over of the day. Farhat, who seemed muddled after Butt's dismissal, moved down the track to try to snap out of the nightmarish start to the day but ended up patting the full toss straight back to Guptill. Surprisingly, there was no visible reaction from Guptill when he took the catch. Perhaps he was too shocked to be merely surprised.
It was a day that had everything: a comically manic start from the most unlikely source, a calm hand from a veteran, an edgy attempt to save a career, a cocky kid, and a lingering suspense about what tomorrow might bring.
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