Plenty of questions to be asked as New Zealand fights for series win
The first and the second tests between Pakistan and New Zealand, which were in Abu Dhabi and Dubai each, were near opposites. In the first test, the pace attack of Trent Boult and Hassan Ali picked up nine wickets between them. Five for Ali, four for Boult, only for pace to take the back seat and for spin to drive the match, as Yasir Shah found five wickets and Ajaz Patel picked up a five-wicket haul on debut in the fourth innings. This change folded Pakistan’s batting, who in pursuit of 176, lost seven wickets in the space of 41 runs and fell to New Zealand by merely four runs.
Going into the second test, Pakistan safely decided to bat first and justified that decision over the space of nearly two days. Going at a slow run rate of 2.5, Azhar Ali found a much-needed half-century in his 81(187) before Haris Sohail’s second century score of 147(421) and Babar Azam’s maiden ton in his 127(263)* stole the show, forcing Pakistan to declare at a nice, threatening total score of 418-5d. Despite all of this, by the end of the next day, Sohail and Azam were no longer in the headlines, as another name found his way into the record books: Yasir Shah. Taking eight in the first innings and six in New Zealand’s follow-on, Shah’s two five-wicket hauls combined for a fourteen-wicket match, second best in Pakistani history, only to the Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Going into the third, deciding and final test, it’s practically impossible to make predictions. Heading back to Abu Dhabi, pace will become more prominent again, unlike in Dubai, but spinners will still likely orchestrate this match. This means that New Zealand will need to plan extremely well for combating Yasir Shah, giving Ross Taylor a major role. The addition of support for pace does create a dilemma for the Kiwis, in which captain Kane Williamson might want to bring in veteran Tim Southee for either Neil Wagner or Colin de Grandhome, but that could weaken New Zealand’s batting.
Pakistan will have to make some changes, the first being 18-year old pacer Shaheen Afridi stepping in for the injured Mohammad Abbas to make his test debut. Along with that, to add pace and batting, Pakistan could consider Faheem Ashraf for his test return, but is anyone else really worthy of being dropped? The easiest option would be off-spinner Bilal Asif to step aside, but he has not necessarily performed poorly yet and can trouble New Zealand with spin. Another possibility would be to have Azhar Ali open in place of Mohammad Hafeez and have Ashraf in for Hafeez, as Hafeez has only found 39 runs this series so far at an average of 13.
A win for either team would be massive for confidence. New Zealand’s record in the UAE has never been good and Pakistan’s test results as of late have been somewhat inconsistent. No matter what takes place in the third test, only entertainment will be served to fans. The third test and final test will be held at Abu Dhabi from Monday, December 3rd to Friday, December 7th, with play on the first day starting at 10 AM UAE Time (11 AM PKT or 1 AM EDT) and can be viewed live on PTV Sports in Pakistan, Sky Sports in New Zealand, or on Willow TV in the US.