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Pakistan's captain Babar Azam (left) gestures with New Zealand's Devon Conway at the end of the fifth and final day of the first Test at the National Stadium in Karachi. The second Test starts tomorrow. Image Credit: AFP

Karachi: Pakistan and New Zealand will be targeting a much-awaited Test victory and leave a disappointing 2022 behind in red-ball cricket when they lock horns in the second Test of their two-match series from Monday.

New Zealand had made a strong bid to chase down 138 in the last hour of the first Test on Friday after Pakistan captain Babar Azam made a daring declaration before poor visibility halted the Black Caps at 61-1 in the eighth over to draw the game.

The Pakistan Cricket Board was forced to organize both Test matches in Karachi due to weather concerns in Multan where winter smog and fog have delayed flights and may have disrupted hours of play.

Losing streak

Friday’s draw broke both team’s four-match losing streaks that included Pakistan’s 3-0 whitewash at the hands of England and its aggressive style.

England swept away New Zealand in the summer before handing Pakistan its first-ever 3-0 defeat at home last month through its relentless aggressive batting on flat and slow-turning pitches.

Pakistan is languishing at No. 7 in the ICC world Test championship table while New Zealand has endured even more disappointment and is 8th despite beating India in the inaugural WTC final at Lord’s last year.

Pakistan’s poor form prompted a change in the leadership of the Pakistan Cricket Board where Ramiz Raja was sacked as chairman shortly after the 3-0 loss to England with former PCB chairman Najam Sethi reinstalled as the head of the new cricket board management committee.

Babar Azam finished 2022 as the top run-scorer in Test matches with 1,184 runs in nine Test matches with four centuries, but Pakistan batters have generally struggled to come close to their skipper’s form except for the late emergence of lefthanded batter Saud Shakeel.

Test debut

Shakeel has scored consistently since making his Test debut against England at Rawalpindi. He scored five half-centuries in four Test matches and saved Pakistan from defeat in the last Test with an unbeaten 55 when Ish Sodhi’s six-wicket haul in the second innings threatened to take the game away from Pakistan.

The middle order has consistently collapsed as Pakistan lost four Tests in a row at home for the first time in its cricketing history while drawing the remaining three games – twice against Australia and one against New Zealand.

Despite the poor run, Babar says that competing against much higher-ranked teams — Australia, England and New Zealand – gave his squad plenty of experience.

“We didn’t perform the way we had expected in red-ball cricket,” Babar said on Sunday. “Three sides ranked above us played in Pakistan that provided us a huge learning opportunity.”

The flat and dry pitches remained a focal point throughout Pakistan’s home Test matches. Pindi Cricket Stadium’s lifeless pitches at Rawalpindi received two merit points from the ICC after hosting Australia and England in March and December, respectively.

But the new PCB regime hopes the wicket for Monday’s second Test will be livelier and will provide bowlers with more opportunities. New chief selector Shahid Afridi and a former PCB curator were overlooking the pitch preparation for the past two days.

Lifeless pitch

“This (pitch) here at the moment, it does look different than the first Test,” said New Zealand batting coach Luke Ronchi, who has experience of playing in the country for Pakistan Super League franchise Islamabad United. “With the surface being a little bit different, we’ll just sort of wait ‘till tomorrow and sort of see how it sort of pulls up.”

Afridi had criticized the lifeless pitches and wanted to see a bit more grass left on the wicket that could assist fast bowlers early and have spinners come into play later as the game progresses.

“We are deliberating upon preparing a pitch that may help bowlers and batsmen alike,” Afridi said. “We cannot become a top team by playing on this type of wickets. The wickets on which we’ve been playing are not good for our bowlers.”

The two-Test series will be followed by three ODIs – also at Karachi – from Jan. 9-13.