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Match Analysis

Gritty New Zealand find a way to even the odds

The team showed that as a collective unit, they haven't lost the ability to adapt to unfamiliar conditions and circumstances

Deivarayan Muthu
Neil Wagner ended the 54-run seventh-wicket partnership, Pakistan vs New Zealand, 1st Test, Karachi, 2nd Day, December 27, 2022

Neil Wagner ended Pakistan's 54-run seventh-wicket partnership with the dismissal of Nauman Ali  •  Associated Press

It is very unusual for New Zealand's players to spend Christmas away from home. In the past decade, New Zealand have been on tour during Christmas only twice - South Africa (2012) and Australia (2019). And the last time New Zealand had visited Pakistan was almost two decades ago.
They were now without Trent Boult, who had given up his New Zealand central contract and is currently at the BBL, and Kyle Jamieson, who is still working his way back from a back injury. Having taken over captaincy from Kane Williamson, Tim Southee was in charge of the New Zealand Test side for the first time. Babar Azam reeled off another hundred, Sarfaraz Ahmed made a statement on his comeback, and Agha Salman notched up his maiden Test century. The Karachi pitch started playing tricks with some balls shooting through at shin height while some shot up to kiss the shoulder of the bat. New Zealand, however, found a way to overcome the odds and stay in the game.
In response to Pakistan's 438, the visitors cut the deficit to 273 and headed to stumps unscathed on the second day. Neil Wagner had his pads on in the post-tea session to potentially step in as a nightwatcher, but New Zealand didn't need him with the bat. Tom Latham and Devon Conway themselves countered mystery spinner Abrar Ahmed and left-arm fingerspinner Nauman Ali with an unbroken 165-run opening partnership.
Wagner, though, had played his part with the ball earlier in the day. Although there wasn't enough pace and bounce in the Karachi track, he ran in hard and hit it harder. He willed himself into getting the ball climb up to Nauman's chest and having him splicing a one-handed catch to Michael Bracewell at short square leg. It ended a stubborn 54-run seventh-wicket stand between Nauman and Salman.
It was Southee who had set the scene for day two when he got a scrambled-seam delivery to rear up at Babar and hit his outside edge near the shoulder of the bat, in the very first over. Salman then rallied with Pakistan's lower order, but Southee returned to pin him lbw and dismiss the hosts for 438.
With the pitch being unresponsive to seamers for large parts of the match, new captain Southee was open to introducing spin as early as the fourth over, a departure from the tactics of his predecessor Wiliamson. Ajaz Patel and Bracewell were responsible for the first three wickets to fall on Monday.
Ish Sodhi, the third spinner, was particularly erratic on the opening day, which was understandable. It was his first day of Test cricket in more than four years, so he needed more time to adjust his pace and length. On Tuesday, though, he tightened up by shifting his lengths fuller and tossing the ball even higher. He was rewarded with the wickets of Mohammad Wasim and Mir Hamza.
"After the first couple of spells yesterday - five-over spells I think - as a spinner you want to get into your groove and today was a great day for that," Sodhi said. "Eleven overs straight from that end and a big part of it was we spoke about partnership bowling and understanding that my role is slightly different to the other spinners in the side. Waggy [Neil Wagner] at the other end was bouncing in and charging away as he always does. I was just trying to make a breakthrough out of variation of bowling legspin and that's something that was great education for me today. Hopefully I can take the learnings on to the rest of the series as well."
After the bowlers did their job, Latham and Conway combined at the top to establish New Zealand's command and give them a shot at posting a bigger total than Pakistan's 438. Both Latham and Conway were decisive in their footwork: either fully forward to smother the spin or right back to put the ball in the gaps.
Abrar's first delivery - a shooter from over the wicket that veered in to strike Conway's shin after having pitched outside leg - could've scrambled the mind of the batter. Latham has already had success in the subcontinent, but this was unfamiliar territory for Conway, who was playing his very first Test in the subcontinent. However, he shrugged off that lbw shout from Abrar and kept covering the line resolutely. Then, when Abrar and Nauman pushed their lines wider of off stump, Conway and Latham unleashed their range of sweeps.
Salman's offspin could have been a favourable match-up for Pakistan against the two left-hand openers, but he was not available after Pakistan's innings, with the commentators suggesting that he was ill.
Conway and Latham eased to unbeaten half-centuries and look good for more on the third day. "It's great to see the way Tommy and Devon applied themselves out there," Sodhi said. "It was always going to be tough having such a long time in the park to come out and stick to their routines for an extended period of time. The way they played - hopefully it's a good benchmark we can take into tomorrow as well."
During their 3-0 whitewash in England, New Zealand's Test superstars lost some of their spark. However, as a collective unit, they haven't lost the ability to adapt to unfamiliar conditions and circumstances.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo