Sarfraz ton frustrates New Zealand

Sarfraz ton frustrates New Zealand

Kiwis’ hopes would rest on Ross Taylor (77 not out, 93 balls, 10 fours) whose daring stroke-play against the two quality spinners stopped Pakistan from taking a firm grip on the match.

By Rituraj Borkakoty (Reporter/Chief Sub Editor)

Published: Fri 21 Nov 2014, 12:52 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 9:11 PM

Sarfraz Ahmed celebrates after scoring his century in Dubai on Thursday. — AFP

Dubai — Test cricket’s old world charm came to the fore on an unforgettable Thursday. The intense battle between bat and ball on a deteriorating wicket, a heroic century, an epic 81-run last wicket partnership, a left-arm-spinner who was not afraid of tossing the ball and a fearless counterattack pleased the aficionados and gave them a chance of witnessing a fascinating final day.

The fourth day began with New Zealand aiming to seal a big first innings lead and finished with them trying to save their skin.

Of course, the protagonist of this drama was an unassuming 27-year-old lad from Karachi who simply refused to wilt even when the Kiwis put him under severe pressure by dismissing three Pakistani tailenders in no time.

Sarfraz Ahmed’s (112 runs, 195 balls, 16 fours) response was majestic as he hit a captivating hundred — his third in Test cricket — with the last batsman for company, giving the New Zealanders only a 10-run first innings lead.

Spinner Zulfiqar Babar then showed bit of his left-arm magic to peg back the Kiwis after captain Brendon McCullum gave them a flying start in their second innings. Yasir Shah, the leg-spinner, also took crucial wickets to leave New Zealand at 167 for six at stumps, with a lead of 177 runs. This happened after the incredible effort from Sarfraz that helped Pakistan recover from a precarious position of 312 for nine to post a total of 393.

In the morning when Pakistan resumed at their overnight score of 281/6, Tim Southee and Trent Boult haunted them with the semi-new ball, removing three lower-order batsmen in the first nine overs.

Sarfraz, who resumed at his overnight score of 28, remained calm amid the mayhem and he found an unlikely ally in Rahat Ali. The Pakistan quick bowler looked assured with the bat against both spin and pace. And his composure was refreshing for a number 11.

Of course, it was Sarfraz who gave Rahat the confidence, protecting him in the early stages of their memorable partnership. But gradually, the wicketkeeper-batsman allowed Rahat to take more strike. While doing so, he shifted his own gear and played some stunning shots. Such was the ease with which he was batting with a number 11 that you could have been forgiven for thinking he was a 100-Test veteran.

The Dubai Test is only the 11th match of the 27-year-old player’s career. Despite making his debut in 2010 against Australia in Hobart, his Test career was in limbo. If it wasn’t for a finger injury to first choice keeper Adnan Akmal in 2013, perhaps Sarfraz would have still remained in the sidelines.

Now he is Pakistan’s undisputed number one wicketkeeper-batsman and few could complain if he continues to perform the way he did against the Kiwis. It wasn’t just his ability to remain calm in pressure situation that caught the eye. Once Rahat began to feel confident, frustrating the Kiwi bowlers, Sarfraz launched a stunning attack on their two spinners — Ish Sodhi and Mark Craig — and hit six delightful fours off them, moving his own score to 95 from 71 in just 12 balls. A desperate McCullum brought back his two fast bowlers — Southee and Boult — but Sarfraz remained unfazed and sent the red cherry to the fence with a rasping square cut, beating two men in the point boundary and brining up an unforgettable century that came against all odds. The affable Pakistani has now done what no other Pakistani wicketkeeper had done in the past. He became the only wicketkeeper in his country’s history to score three centuries in a calendar year. Only Ab de Villiers, arguably the best batsman in the world, has hit more centuries (4) as a wicketkeeper in a calendar year.

It was an irony that such a great innings came to an end when he tamely gave a straight catch to part-time spinner McCullum in the second over after lunch. But no praise would be ever enough for this gutsy player whose brilliance with the bat hit the Kiwis where it hurts and his 81-run partnership for the last wicket with Rahat gave Pakistan renewed hope.

On Friday, the Kiwis’ hopes would rest on Ross Taylor (77 not out, 93 balls, 10 fours) whose daring stroke-play against the two quality spinners stopped Pakistan from taking a firm grip on the match. Babar’s slow-left arm spin removed the dangerous McCullum, Kane Williamson (11) and James Neesham (11) while Yasir also chipped in with three wickets, including the crucial one of Bradley-John Walting. Now Pakistan would aim to restrict the Kiwi lead to 200. But if Taylor draws inspiration from Sarfraz, this Test would only be heading for a draw.

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