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The final Test of the year has come to a close, and it couldn’t have happened in more dramatic fashion. Pakistan and New Zealand played out a scintillating fifth day of action that seesawed with momentum, and yet again proved Test cricket is well as truly alive in 2022.
Ultimately the Pakistan vs New Zealand first Test ended in a draw, but not before a shock declaration from Babar Azam gave New Zealand a genuine opening to win the match in fading light. In a match that had a slice of everything, the question is: Has Bazball begun to influence the international Test cricket landscape already?
Pakistan vs New Zealand First Test Starts Slowly
In a year where we’ve consistently seen England score at over a run-a-ball in Test matches, and South Africa struggle to make 200, it was somewhat surprising to watch the first two innings of the Pakistan vs New Zealand first Test unfold.
Pakistan chose to bat first, and soaked up a whopping 130.5 overs for their 438 all out. Babar Azam top scored on 161, and was given good company by Agha Salman on 103. The Kiwi bowlers shared the wickets, with captain Tim Southee taking three at an economy of 2.67. In reply, New Zealand went out and put on a behemoth score of their own, racking up 612/9d off 194.5 overs. Kane Williamson top scored with a fine double century, making him the most prolific achiever of this milestone in New Zealand. Tom Latham also scored a fine 113, and Ish Sodhi impressed with 65.
By the time the first two innings were completed, New Zealand had a lead of 174 and there were only four sessions left in the game. For all intents and purposes, this game seemed to be destined for a draw.
Pakistan Wobble, Then Shock in First Test
Needing 174 to send New Zealand back in to bat, Pakistan began solidly by getting through to 47/0 late on the fourth day. Then, early on the fifth day, Ish Sodhi began to work his magic. Quick wickets fell, with Pakistan slumping to 100/4. After a brief fight back, another cluster of wickets saw Pakistan lose three for 21 runs, including Iman-Ul-Haq on 96, leaving the game in the balance with the home side ahead by 32 runs and only three wickets in hand.
Saud Shakeel led a brilliant tail end resistance in the second and third sessions of the day however, putting on 71 runs with Mohammad Wasim for the eight wicket to frustrate New Zealand. When the Pakistani lead crossed 120 and the overs remaining in the day dipped below 20, it seemed as though any chance of a Kiwi victory was off the cards.
This decision made the Test match exciting 💚 #PAKvNZ pic.twitter.com/C6VAXSasyc
— Farid Khan (@_FaridKhan) December 30, 2022
That is until, Babar Azam shocked everyone—including Saud Shakeel—by calling his batsmen in with a lead of 137 and 15 overs left to be played in the day after the change over. After fighting so hard to defend their last two wickets in what seemed destined to be a drawn match, Azam decided to risk it all in a Hail Mary swing for the win.
Has Bazball Already Shifted the Mentality of Test Captains?
Needing to score at a healthy T20 run rate in order to win the match, New Zealand rose to the challenge. Initially they sent Michael Bracewell out to open alongside Devon Conway, which lasted all of five balls. However, Tom Latham and Conway then combined for 57 runs off 6.3 overs, with both men scoring at well above a run-a-ball to keep New Zealand on course for the victory.
The Pakistani light was to have the final say, however, as only half of the remaining overs were able to be bowled. The match destined to be a draw ended as one, albeit not in the fashion that was expected. Had the sun held out for another half an hour, Babar Azam may have rued his decision to declare.
Both Azam’s declaration, and New Zealand’s decision to go after a target of 138 in the final 15 overs of a Test match scream of England’s approach to Test cricket this year. With nine wins from ten matches through their ultra-aggressive Bazball style of play, have Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes already had an impact on the game beyond England?
Speaking to the press after the match, Azam defended his decision, saying, “At times you have to take brave decisions and take chances. As a team and captain, I try and do that. You plan for a result, even if you can’t guarantee it.”
Sounds mighty like another Test captain we’ve heard speak recently.