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Match Analysis

Williamson and New Zealand and a throwback to old Test cricket

They were slow, they were steady, they refused to take any risk and they might still end up winning the game

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
29-Dec-2022
Ish Sodhi and Kane Williamson ground Pakistan down on day four  •  Associated Press

Ish Sodhi and Kane Williamson ground Pakistan down on day four  •  Associated Press

There's only one thing to do when Pakistan lay out pitches as flat as these. Attack with the bat, attack with the ball, attack with the field, and attack with the declarations. Be prepared to lose the game if you really want to win it. Send the Nighthawks in, be unpredictable with the bowling changes, surprising with the selections, funky with the fields. Attack the danger, go faster through the smog.
It sounds crazy, at times a shade arrogant. It can chafe. But, as Brendon McCullum walked away with the first ever 3-0 clean sweep by a visiting side in Pakistan, the series trophy stowed away in England's luggage was vindication of that strategy's success. A plan that works, after all, will always win out, no matter how ornate, intricate and sophisticated Plans B, C, and D look on paper.
Kane Williamson, the man who succeeded McCullum as New Zealand's Test captain, though, has a sharp enough mind to see that his side - or Tim Southee's side as it's now become - doesn't have the personnel to play in the same frenetic, slapdash manner as England. He might also have noticed that Pakistan don't really know how to win Test matches at home right now. Their batting line-up is in transition, the bulk of their premier fast bowlers are injured and who keeps wicket has become part of a culture war that has very little to do with cricket.
The last week at the PCB has seen one administration swept aside midway through its term and an older one rushed back in. They're busy taking part in a tedious slanging match of accusations and rebuttals, counter-rebuttals and fresh accusations. In short, there is more than one way to beat Pakistan at the moment, and New Zealand need not rip up the Test guidebook to threaten a fifth straight home defeat on their beleaguered hosts.
The third day was moving day, with New Zealand merely intent on ensuring they finished it having overtaken Pakistan's first innings score. On the fourth, with Williamson well into three-figures and batting with the tail, there was a chance of morning fireworks as New Zealand pressed home their advantage and gave themselves as much time as possible to bowl out Pakistan once more. It was, England had repeatedly told us and showed us, the way to win here.
Except, it would take 18 balls for the first run to be scored, and 50 for the first boundary. Williamson, and New Zealand, had no intention of offering up risk for theatre's sake, and felt no obligation to play to anyone's instant gratification. New Zealand have, after all, won just 15 Tests in Asia in 67 years. Twenty percent of those came under Williamson's stewardship. He might never have played here before, but at this point, he has Karachi bending to his will, and he wants to ensure there is as much daylight as possible between his side and Pakistan before a final assault can begin.
The 17 overs in the first hour see just 29 runs scored; there are just 79 scored by lunch. Boundaries are as scarce as fully fit Pakistan fast bowlers at the moment, but, and this is the point, wickets are scarcer still. Ish Sodhi - equally disciplined - plays the innings of his life; the 180 balls he faces represent over 21% of his career count. Of the 193 balls in the first session, the pair defend or leave alone 136 - over 70%. In front of largely empty stands on a weekday, it's not absorbing cricket, but then again, well played Test cricket can often be a difficult watch, particularly on turgid surfaces. These surfaces are especially turgid, and New Zealand are playing Test cricket especially well here.
"Any time you go out to bat, you want to prepare as well as you can and try and commit your plans," Williamson said. "That was the focus here in this match. It was nice to spend a lot of time out there with a number of other guys that made really valuable contributions. Coming into today, we knew we wanted to bat longer and get a few more on the board and the contribution from Ish Sodhi with the bat was really important. It was a nice first innings total and for us it's lot of work to do and we know we got to take a few wickets tomorrow.
"It's hard to judge really, but for me it was nice to be out there, being a part of a number of partnerships that were really valuable for us getting a competitive total. It has put us in a reasonable position, but we know there's a lot of hard work to do. In terms of a first innings total as a batting unit, we are pleased with the efforts, but we know that day five of any Test, so many things can unfold and we're looking forward to that."
It wasn't until tea that New Zealand finally declared, moments after Williamson had lofted Abrar Ahmed inside out with an exquisite shot that took him to 199, before a nudge to deep square took him to his fifth double-hundred. He is past McCullum now, and also, the first non-Asian batter to register three-figure scores in each of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the UAE.
"It's always a challenge to bat in Asia," Williamson said, "Slightly different as well. All the countries and opposition are different. I wouldn't put them all in the same group, but as a team we're always trying to adjust to the conditions to put a good performance on the board. These were a good few days, but Test cricket going into day five, there's a lot left in the match, so we're very much focused on that."
It didn't always feel like that when Williamson was out there batting. Even as New Zealand's innings was drawing to a close and he was running out of partners, there was little urgency to get to the personal milestone, or finally get off the square and put Pakistan in for the 10 wickets they needed to take. The umpires even extended the middle session with New Zealand nine down, and yet Williamson was content to pad up to Nauman Ali's legside drifters, and even played out a maiden against Abrar, exposing Ajaz Patel for a full over. It was all time that was being drained out of the game on a clock Pakistan were only too happy to watch run down.
"We'll have to see if we declared late," he said. "We wanted to get a few more runs and see the way the pitch is deteriorating a little bit and getting a bit of assistance with the spin. It's definitely deteriorated a bit, there's a lot more rough as we saw towards the back end of our innings. There were a few more things to negotiate as a batter, a little bit of variable bounce. We'll need a lot of hard work and some patience going into tomorrow to try and utilise the assistance off the surface as well as we can."
It's all very far removed from the last visitors that showed up on these shores. New Zealand, though, don't seem too bothered about running after the latest fad; indeed, they didn't seem especially bothered by chasing after a victory here. And yet, with Williamson the master whisperer in that characteristically understated way, they might still end up wooing that victory to come to them.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000