Azhar, Aslam give Pakistan outside chance

Tea: Pakistan 216 and 158 for 1 (Aslam 75*, Azam 16*) need another 211 runs to beat New Zealand 271 and 313 for 5 dec
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At tea, Sami Aslam was batting on 75 off 219 balls © Getty Images

A 131-run opening stand between Sami Aslam and Azhar Ali, spanning 60 overs, ensured that a draw was the likeliest result of the Hamilton Test, though Pakistan gave the impression as tea approached that they had not ruled out a tilt at their improbable target. After the drinks break of the middle session, they scored 51 in 13 overs, leaving them 158 for 1 at tea, needing a further 211 from a minimum of 34 overs.

Perhaps sensing that Pakistan, 1-0 down in the series, would try and chase the game, New Zealand set defensive fields even when Azhar and Aslam were scoring less than two runs an over. With the pitch offering the bowlers little help apart from occasional inconsistent bounce – which grew more infrequent as the ball aged – Kane Williamson perhaps felt his best chance of getting wickets was from batsmen making mistakes. Azhar fell in this manner for 58, dragging an attempted cover drive off Mitchell Santner back onto his stumps, but New Zealand tasted no other success in the first two sessions.

They lost a significant chance to pick up a wicket in the penultimate over before lunch, when Simon Fry turned down Colin de Grandhomme’s lbw appeal down against Aslam. Williamson asked for a review, but his request was turned down since he had taken too long to make it. Replays suggested the ball, delivered from around the wicket, had struck the left-handed Aslam’s pad in line with off stump and ball-tracking indicated it would have gone on to hit leg stump.

New Zealand possibly took so long in deciding to review because they had wasted their first referral for a caught-behind appeal when the ball had passed Azhar’s bat and glove by a good twelve inches as he swayed away from a Wagner bouncer.

With roughly four sessions of the Test match lost to rain, there was less wear and tear on the Seddon Park pitch than a typical fifth-day surface. There wasn’t much swing either, forcing Tim Southee into bowling cross-seam within the first ten minutes of the day in an effort to rough up one side of the ball.

Up-and-down bounce was the one major threat to Azhar and Aslam. Matt Henry sneaked a shortish ball under Azhar’s bat in the 12th over of Pakistan’s innings, narrowly missing off stump, and then, in the 16th over, hit him on the glove with one that lifted from a good length. In the next over, Neil Wagner got a short ball to keep low as well, forcing Azhar to defend his stumps with a hurried jab with both feet off the ground.

Wagner, typically, looked to test both openers with the short ball, using the angles adroitly and often, especially while bowling from left-arm around, delivering from as close to the return crease as humanly possible. Both batsmen handled him with a degree of ease, except for one instance when Aslam took his eye off the ball as it followed him from over the wicket and hit him on the side of the helmet.

Both Azhar and Aslam looked to play as straight as possible, with the threat of the shooter at the back of their minds, and this contributed to the glacial pace of run-scoring at the start of the day’s play. After 20 overs, Pakistan had only scored 21.

Then, at the start of the 21st over, a bouncer from Wagner ran away for five wides and began a slight shift in the pattern of play. Azhar drove Henry for a four to the right of mid-off, and both batsmen sent square-cuts flying to the boundary in the next couple of overs. Aslam brought up the fifty stand in the 27th over, flicking Wagner to the backward square leg boundary, and soon afterwards sent a top-edged sweep off Mitchell Santner over the square-leg rope.

The openers didn’t quite sustain the acceleration through the first half of the post-lunch session, scoring only 19 runs in the first 10 overs. As drinks approached, they began looking for sharp singles, and a more accurate throw from Henry Nicholls at short midwicket could have sent back Aslam in the 50th over. The drinks break provoked a distinct change in approach. Aslam pulled Wagner to the square-leg boundary, and then picked up two fours towards fine leg in one over from Henry, the first one a flick that went finer than intended, the second an inside-edged cover-drive.

At tea, Aslam was batting on 75. Babar Azam, who joined Aslam at the fall of Azhar’s wicket, had hit two fours, including a pull wide of mid-on off Wagner, in moving to 16 off 23 balls.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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