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At Napier, December 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 2009. Drawn. Toss: Pakistan. Test debut: B. J. Watling.
Well might Mohammad Yousuf, Pakistan's deeply religious captain, tug at his considerable beard and concede that Allah had smiled on his team as they escaped defeat in a dramatic, dogged and sometimes brilliantly exciting match. When heavy rain stopped New Zealand's second-innings victory charge at 90 without loss - with another 118 needed from 24 overs at a very similar scoring-rate - Yousuf readily agreed that something beyond natural causes might well have saved his side.
In fact, millions of Pakistanis may have had a distant hand in it. Because the threat of terrorism had forced Pakistan to play what should have been a home series on their opponents' soil, they had asked to start the Tests at noon in New Zealand, so that viewers back home could switch on at 4 a.m. rather than 2.30. Though the number of overs was unaffected, it had been a sunny morning, so New Zealanders might have won before the rain arrived had they kept to their usual hours.
This Test - and the whole series - displayed all the competitiveness and incident, the charm and tradition, that produce variety and intrigue impossible in the one-day game. Seven of the nine Tests on the rock-hard McLean Park pitch have been drawn. But groundsman Phil Stoyanoff told a press huddle he was sure this one would produce an outright result - not so much through a change in preparation, but because the batsmen had been "hopeless" in the first two Tests. The spin doctors were in a tizzy trying to soften this criticism, so the fact that Stoyanoff had changed his pre-Test ritual slightly, leaving a little more moisture in the smooth, hard strip, was ignored.
Vettori was spared a tricky decision when Yousuf won the toss and, knowing the pitch's reputation, batted. Salman Butt was bowled by a nasty seamer from Southee, making his first appearance of the series. Then O'Brien found the little bits of swing and seam (predicted by Stoyanoff) that had lain dormant for years and removed four top-order batsmen, three of them for ducks. At one stage, he had the staggering figures of 5-4-3-4 as Pakistan slumped to 51 for five in 19 overs.
Slowly, the sun mopped up the mischief in the pitch but, though Imran Farhat soldiered on, carrying his bat for 117 with 14 fours and a six, his team-mates returned to the suicidal swishing and nicking of the panic before lunch. Tuffey, an earnest and honest trundler, finished them off, his four victims all caught behind.
On the second day Danish Kaneria's leg-spin quickly took four wickets, and New Zealand were struggling. As so often happened during his golden summer, Vettori came to the rescue. He promoted himself to No. 6, McCullum played a steadier hand than usual, and their stand of 176 lifted the team to 321 for six. A blistering counter-attack had Vettori collecting his fifth Test century and Tuffey striking eight fours and two sixes. As the score raced past 400, only the faithful Kaneria showed any pluck. He finished with seven wickets from 53 overs.
With the Test half over and any vice drained from the pitch, Farhat and Butt calmly clipped 128 off arrears of 248 without mishap on the third day. But next morning Guptill, a very occasional provider of hopeful off-spin, was given the ball for the first over. He caught and bowled Butt off his third delivery and Farhat shortly afterwards. With 102 still needed to make New Zealand bat again, Pakistan had to rebuild. Yousuf took command, Umar Akmal scored another half-century and they toiled to 347 for four by the close. By now the pitch totally favoured the batsmen, but Vettori and the ghostly-pale O'Brien, who was plainly unwell, chipped out the occasional wicket and tried to avoid being mauled by Kamran Akmal. Pakistan's lead eased past 200 before Guptill returned to winkle out the last man.
New Zealand needed 208 in the 43 overs that might be possible if the weather held. Rather than start with his power-hitters, Taylor and McCullum, Vettori bravely retained the dogged McIntosh and the novice B. J. Watling to start the chase. They started carefully, with six runs from five overs, then stepped up to 35 from ten before Kaneria arrived to stifle the charge. But Pakistan reckoned without Watling, a newcomer with good one-day form. His inventive strokes had boundaries flowing, and New Zealand were close to a winning recipe as the rate reached 4.7 an over.
With another 118 needed at 4.9, and all ten wickets standing, they were poised to hurtle to victory - when the heavens had mercy on Pakistan. What might have been a brilliant win to either side, or even a tie, turned into a damp but unforgettable draw between two brave teams, neither of them top class, but on almost every day of the series paying tribute to the noble traditions of Test cricket.
Man of the Match: D. L. Vettori. Close of play: First day, New Zealand 47-0 (McIntosh 31, Watling 13); Second day, New Zealand 346-6 (Vettori 100, Tuffey 13); Third day, Pakistan 128-0 (Imran Farhat 55, Salman Butt 66); Fourth day, Pakistan 347-4 (Umar Akmal 48, Misbah-ul-Haq 4).