New Zealand began day five at Basin Reserve needing to bowl Pakistan out to square the series, but barring an early burst from the seamers, their attack lacked the penetration to dislodge the opposition batsmen, especially after they began to play defensively. Daniel Vettori, however, singled out the second-innings collapse in Hamilton as the reason for New Zealand's 1-0 series loss against Pakistan.
"The reason we lost the series was because of our third innings with the bat in Hamilton," Vettori said. "I thought we played really well yesterday to give ourselves a chance. We wanted to get a 270 score because we knew that would always be difficult out here, so to set that to win was a good effort."
Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan effectively sealed the series with their second century stand of the game, batting out almost a session and a half to take Pakistan out of danger. Both men made valuable half-centuries: Younis opted to play his strokes for 81 with one eye on a win, and Misbah's unbeaten 226-ball vigil ensured his side would not surrender the series lead on the last day.
"Misbah and Younis was the key partnership," Vettori said. "They're obviously very experienced players and they know their game pretty well. The wicket was good and we just couldn't get that breakthrough early enough. I think even when we got Younis before tea there was a sniff there, but we just needed to keep getting those breakthroughs and into their inexperienced middle and lower order, but we didn't get them."
Vettori was expected to provide the impetus for New Zealand as they pushed for wickets in the fourth innings, but his inability to turn the ball significantly on a worn fifth-day pitch blunted New Zealand's ambitions of a Test win. Vettori troubled Younis early with changes of pace and a hint of extra bounce, but the batsman had little trouble negotiating the spinner once he was settled at the crease.
"The wicket was very good. It still had enough in it [for the bowlers], but if you didn't want to play any shots it was certainly something you could defend on. Younis played really well - it was a great way to play in a fourth innings on a fifth day. He put a little bit of pressure back on us, but mainly he was content to defend and Misbah was very content to defend. When you're 1-0 up you can play that way and they did exceptionally well, and did what their team needed."
Waqar Younis also praised the efforts of the experienced Pakistan batsmen. "They've been batting well since South Africa, which was another tough series," Waqar said. "Full credit to Younis, he's an experienced campaigner and he knows what to do and he did exactly what we needed."
Misbah-ul-Haq embellished his record as captain, adding 70 to take his series tally to 231 in three innings, and picked up the Man-of-the-Match and Man-of-the-Series awards. His average since taking over the leadership is 112.75 in four Tests. "For some [becoming Test captain] goes wrong and for some it brings a lot of luck," Waqar said. "He's been playing good, defensive but positive cricket."
Waqar said the plan had been to chase down the 274 set by New Zealand for victory, but early wickets caused his side to change tack. "270 odd is a par score nowadays in Test match cricket. But on the fifth day it sometimes gets a little tricky. We wanted to win this match but losing three early wickets didn't really help the cause and it took a bit too long to recover from that and that's why we didn't manage it.
"Hafeez was our trump card. If he had carried on for bit longer it might have been a different story, but it was tough after that. We always knew Vettori could be [dangerous] on this fifth day pitch, so we're happy with the result."
Both sides now look forward to the six-match one-day series, which begins on Saturday. The series will be crucial as the teams look to settle their final combinations and build some momentum ahead of the World Cup. New Zealand, in particular, will attempt to turn their one-day form around, having lost an unprecedented 11 games on the trot since June last year.
"Obviously we're on a bad run of losses," Vettori said. "We're comfortable playing in New Zealand. It won't mean much in terms of performance because the grounds and the pitches will be so different [in the World Cup]. But if the guys can walk away from this series with a series win and some form, they'll go to the World Cup in a better space."
Pakistan, too, will aim to leave New Zealand with another victory. "A win always gives you a boost," Waqar said. "We'll go into the one-dayers with a lot more aggression and positivity. We've got a few players coming and a few going back. We know that New Zealand are always a tough team in their home conditions, so we're not going to take it easy."