Test matches (3): New Zealand 1, Pakistan 1
New Zealand were in the unusual position of officially being "visitors" on their own grounds when this series, supposed to be staged in Pakistan, had to be relocated because of continuing security fears. After contesting three one-day internationals in Abu Dhabi and two Twenty20 games in Dubai, the teams arrived in New Zealand in mid-November to play three Tests.
Pakistan had a new captain, Mohammad Yousuf, as Younis Khan had stepped down after losing the one-day series and requested a sabbatical; New Zealand were also in flux, having parted with their coach, Andy Moles, before the trip to the United Arab Emirates when the players indicated they had lost faith in him.
The Tests proved neither side deserved to be ranked among the upper echelons of cricket's order (Pakistan stood at sixth and New Zealand seventh in the ICC Test rankings). Pakistan's fielding was lamentable - they dropped 17 chances during the series - while New Zealand's batting, the top order especially, was too flaky. Their weaknesses meant they were well matched, however, and produced a stimulating lack of certainty from day to day. The first and last matches went to the final session, with both sides having a chance. New Zealand won the opening Test, at Dunedin's University Oval, by 32 runs, while the weather in usually clement Napier had the final say, forcing the players off as New Zealand were attempting to chase 208 in 43 overs. But Pakistan easily won the Second Test, the 50th at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, after dismissing New Zealand for 99 in their first innings.
Pakistan fielded two young stars. Left-arm bowler Mohammad Aamer demonstrated his potential from the first ball of the series, which bowled Tim McIntosh. With a style reminiscent of Wasim Akram on his debut, also against New Zealand almost a quarter of a century earlier, Aamer proved competitive, although the toll of playing three matches in quick succession had its effect on a 17-year-old; he clearly struggled with his workload in Napier's heat and was forced from the field in distress. Series figures of seven wickets at an average of 43 did not do justice to his influence, especially in Dunedin. But an unbeaten 73 in the last one-day match in Abu Dhabi had demonstrated a fierce capability with the bat that should see him emerge as a genuine all-rounder.
Umar Akmal, aged 19, already had a one-day international century to his name, and marked his Test debut with an outstanding hundred at Dunedin, a demonstration of talent, confidence and innovation against the superior pace of Shane Bond which made compelling watching. Nothing seemed too much trouble to Umar, and he maintained that spirit throughout the series without quite managing to repeat that century. He was the leading batsman on either side, with 379 runs at 63, and the mainstay of Pakistan's batting; while he and his brother Kamran were at the wicket, there was every chance they would run down their target in Dunedin. But Bond dismissed him for the second time in the match, allowing his colleagues to set about the Pakistan tail.
Of the old guard, Yousuf never produced the dominant display New Zealand feared from him, although he managed a couple of eighties. Leg-spinner Danish Kaneria was not wanted for the First Test but picked up 13 cheap wickets in the remaining two, and regularly flummoxed lower-order batsmen.
While Aamer offered promise, it was Mohammad Asif who provided performance. He had not played a Test for two years after drugs-related offences; though his comeback began in the Champions Trophy in September, he had not played in the games in the UAE, as he was banned from there. Asif bolstered the young side with his consistent nagging off-stump line and a little away movement to the right-hander. His 19 wickets, including nine for 107 in the Wellington victory, made him the series' leading wicket-taker.
New Zealand were also boosted at the start of the series by a fast bowler enjoying a comeback: like Asif, Shane Bond was playing his first Test in two years, reprieved from exile after his involvement in the Indian Cricket League. Bond dominated the First Test, demanding constant respect from batsmen, and the match award reflected his worth. Injury continued to haunt his career, however, and an abdominal strain kept him out of the last two games. By Christmas, he had announced he was retiring from Test cricket, though he hoped to be fit enough to play one-day and Twenty20 internationals. Seamer Iain O'Brien had already revealed he would be retiring from Test cricket after the series, to live in England with his English wife and play for Middlesex. These twin blows hit New Zealand hard; O'Brien took 15 wickets in the series, and it was he and Bond who had turned the First Test on the final afternoon.
New Zealand's failure to secure consistent runs from their top order meant the load fell on Ross Taylor and captain Daniel Vettori again, with McCullum as back-up. Taylor hit 301 runs and averaged 60, narrowly missing a hundred twice; Vettori was out for 99 in Dunedin before securing his fifth Test century in Napier when he moved up the order to No. 6. Vettori's 287 runs and ten wickets showed the responsibility of captaincy had not reduced his effectiveness. But remedial action was clearly needed by New Zealand's batsmen for them to become a competitive unit at Test level.
Match reports for
Tour Match: New Zealand Invitation XI v Pakistanis at Queenstown, Nov 18-20, 2009