Auckland witnessed a sensational end to the 1st Test between Pakistan and New Zealand, when the wickets tumbled like ninepins to give a thundering 299 runs victory to Pakistan. It was a superb combination of spin and speed by off spinner Saqlain Mushtaq and a debutante speedster Mohammad Sami that wrecked the Black Caps.
It all happened in a magical spell of 20 overs that New Zealand's 2nd innings was wrapped up before lunch on the 5th day with an addition of only 26 runs to the overnight score of 105 for 1. The last 8 wickets fell within a span of 10 runs creating a scene of unprecedented drama and suspense for players as well as the spectators.
Among the two main wreckers, Saqlain Mushtaq who clinched 4 wickets for only 3 runs conceded in 12.4 overs, is a deadly off spinner who could be safely rated as 2nd to Muttiah Muralitharan in international cricket. Having played his first test just in 1995, he is a veteran of 142 wickets claimed in 32 tests. Out of form for some time, his magnificent haul of 8 wickets at Auckland has put him back on the rails.
The other bowler who played a major role in the Black Caps' humiliation was a debutante Mohammad Sami. The youngster who is a speedster with a smooth run up and gentle pace appears to have learned the art of reverse swing rather too early in the career. He earned `Man of the Match Award' on his 1st test appearance when he demolished New Zealand's 2nd innings by claiming 5 wickets for 6 runs in 7 overs, a fantastic performance by all standards.
The victory target of 431 runs was certainly beyond the capacity of the Black Caps' to achieve, especially when playing the 4th innings, but at the same time no one expected them to collapse in such a miserable fashion. Their achievement on the 4th day, scoring 105 runs for the loss of only one wicket was excellent. It indicated the laying of a solid foundation to build the innings for a respectable draw. The change of situation so dramatically could hardly be visualized.
It was the Saqlain-Sami combination that did wonders for Pakistan. By sharing 7 wickets among themselves in the 1st innings, the pair had shown its worth and was certainly required to be handled with care. Apart from the bowlers' awe-inspiring performance, two other elements played a marvelous role in the Black Caps' doom. The portable pitch that proved batsman's paradise during the first four days changed its character all of a sudden. It became friendly to bowlers on the 5th day not knowing which side they belonged to.
The batsmen could also be blamed for adopting a timid approach to the game. The very fact that, batsmen like Craig McMillan who batted so well in the earlier matches tried for 31 minutes playing 20 balls to get off the mark but failed. Squeezed up in a defensive groove, none of them picked up the courage to hit hard and punish the bowlers. Their passive attitude gave the bowlers an upper hand and the latitude to dominate the show.
The 2nd element that helped Pakistan in achieving such a glorious victory, was the marked improvement in its fielding. For a change the fielders were alert and agile more than previous occasions. They displayed complete dedication in stopping the ball and holding the catches. The way Saqlain Mushtaq dived and caught McMillan in the mid-wicket region was fantastic. It was a catch worth inclusion in the list of `best catches', at times shown on the television. Similarly the Black Caps' horrible fall of 9 wickets within a span of 26 runs deserve to be counted among other historical innings that met such a tragic fate in the past.
The remarkable triumph that, Pakistan has achieved at Auckland will certainly provide impetus to the team for the oncoming encounters. The sudden collapse of the Black Caps' being unprecedented should not be taken as a yardstick to determine their prowess. They are a fighting outfit having shown their mettle on many previous occasions. Let us not forget, that their start of the 2nd innings was highly impressive. The opening pair of Richardson (59) and Bell (28) had almost frustrated Pakistan's bowling attack, till Bell was run out at the total of 91. The recurrence of such long and determined partnerships should not be ruled out.
Luck had a big role to play in Pakistan's victory at Auckland. In the absence of Wasim Akram, Abdur Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood, Pakistan had virtually no all rounder in the side. The team played with only four bowlers, which is not normal for a test match. The composition of the side for the 2nd test shall have to be revised.