Babar, Sarfaraz help Pakistan take Day 1 honours

by crickethighlights.oneStaff •  Published on Mon, Dec 26, 2022, 07:48 PM

Babar Azam’s ninth century and Sarfaraz Ahmed’s maiden fifty at home ground in Karachi on Test comeback helped Pakistan take Day 1 honours in the two-match series opener on Monday (December 26). Joining hands in the penultimate over before Lunch, when the hosts had slipped to 110/4 after opting to bat, the senior duo combined for a 196-run partnership over nearly two wicket-less sessions that New Zealand had to endure after a rather successful morning. Sarfaraz fell on 86 at the stroke of stumps, but Babar’s unbeaten 161 propelled Pakistan’s tally to a solid 317/5.

Though the hosts had quite the contrasting start to the day. The pitch had some moisture and that offered early turn and bounce. New Zealand, playing with three spin options, resorted to Ajaz Patel as early as in the fourth over and the left-armer took only three balls to break through. It also, probably. helped that most of Pakistan’s top-order tried an ultra-aggressive approach, trying to hit their way out of it and gifting the wickets away in the process.

Abdullah Shafique and Shan Masood fell in similar fashion, stepping out often that Ajaz and Michael Bracewell, respectively, dragged their lengths back a tad and got the ball to spin away from the batters while Tom Blundell whipped the bails off in a flash. Pakistan thereby earned the dubious record of becoming the only team to have their first-two wickets out stumped in a Test innings.

It did get a little better for them before Imam-ul-Haq and Saud Shakeel threw away perfectly solid starts, making 24 and 22 respectively. While the former also gave the bowler pre-meditated charge and toe-ended a catch to mid-off, Southee got the latter to drive away from a body and edge it to gully at the stroke of Lunch. That had undone all the efforts Babar and Shakeel had put in their 62-run partnership to resurrect the innings through the second half of the morning session, where New Zealand mostly deployed spin.

As the pitch eased out with more time in the sun, Babar and Sarfaraz brought their experience to the fore and managed to take the sting out of New Zealand’s attack quite effectively through their mammoth stand. Both of them offered early chances and then made the visitors pay for the misses with a turnaround that wore them out.

Babar used his feet to good effect, stepping out to spinners quite often and taking calculated risks to clear the infield. He was quick to pounce on anything short or wide and picked up boundaries all along the ground. Barring a drop on 12, when Daryl Mitchell fumbled at first slip, and a run-out scare on 56 right after Lunch, Babar was near flawless as he went on to bring up his third century in Karachi.

Sarfaraz, even though a bit edgy at the start, got off with a beautiful cover drive and then deployed the sweeps often to dominate the spinners. He played an ideal second fiddle to Babar, making only 35 in the first hundred runs of their partnership. The Kiwis broke into a celebration when Sarfaraz was given caught-behind off Tim Southee on 26. However, the Pakistan ‘keeper reviewed immediately, confident that the edge evaded his bat and brushed the back of his thigh pad instead, and was vindicated.

After spending a couple of overs stuck on 97, Babar brought up his hundred in style as he swung a generously tossed up delivery from Bracewell high over deep midwicket ropes. He went on to raise both the impending milestones – Pakistan’s 200 with a single next ball and the hundred partnership with the second of the back-to-back boundaries off the offspinner, though was fortunate to see the edge race past the slip.

Sarfaraz moved into his 40s with another picture-perfect cover drive but injured his right hip in a desperate dive to avoid a run-out on 46 just after Tea. Despite the visible discomfort, he fought his way to his 19th Test fifty, playing his first Test at home and first in three years for the country. However, the injury coupled with the return of the pacers into the attack brought the scoring in check immediately. Pakistan, who had gone into the break on 224/4, took nine overs on the other side to bring up the 250 and another six for the pair to raise the 150 of their partnership. By the rather extended drinks break of the evening session, the home side had only added 39 runs to their total.

Desperate for a breakthrough, Southee grabbed the new ball as soon as it was made available. He brought himself back on and just off the second ball took a LBW call upstairs that was turned down on-field against Sarfaraz. The batter though was saved by ‘umpire’s call’ on impact. His luck ran out soon though. Just as Babar took Pakistan past 300, Ajaz struck with the new ball for the second time in the innings.

Tad late in the day – and it cost New Zealand plenty of runs – but Mitchell somewhat made up for the earlier drop with a fine, low catch to deny the keeper a century. Sarfraz looked to drive a loopy ball outside off, but the outside edge took off to first slip where the all-rounder caught it near his right ankle and barely inches off the ground as the replays confirmed it a clean take.

Propped up by a key wicket ahead of stumps, Ajaz and New Zealand nearly thought they had managed to get rid of Babar too in the final over of the day. The Pakistan captain tried his luck with a review when the spinner got one to turn away sharply, beat his outside edge and ping him on the back pad. The decision was overturned, with the new ball found to be just marginally going over, and Babar saw through the day unscathed – the early drop costing New Zealand 149 runs already.

Brief scores: Pakistan 317/5 (Babar Azam 161*, Sarfaraz Ahmed 86; Ajaz Patel 2-91) vs New Zealand

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