Assad Shafiq
A New Zealand player appeals for dismissal of Pakistan’s Assad Shafiq during the first Test in Abu Dhabi on Monday. Image Credit: AP

Abu Dhabi: Just when it seemed like everything was heading in the right direction in Pakistan cricket and you start believing they have hit the purple patch, their inborn self-destructive traits took centre stage.

What unfolded at the Shaikh Zayed Stadium on Monday from the stroke of lunch was something hard to fathom. On any day and on any given wicket, most teams would have backed themselves to knock off those remaining 46 runs against New Zealand at ease with six wickets in hand. That reputation of being a volatile, unpredictable side got further endorsement when they made another possible target impossible and suffered a heartbreaking loss by four runs.

Mickey Arthur and skipper Sarfraz Ahmad will have lots to ponder on before the team gathers at the Dubai International Stadium in four days’ time before the crucial second Test.

Where did Pakistan lose the Test? Certainly, it was not just while chasing the target of 176 but it had started as soon as their batsmen failed to capitalise and post a 250-plus total after their bowlers had restricted New Zealand to a paltry 153 in the first innings.

A lot of credit has to go to New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson for the way he marshalled his resources and to debutant Ajaz Patel for the way he bowled on the dramatic day for his five-wicket haul. But, it certainly wasn’t a wicket where the ball spun like a cobra and was unplayable. Clearly, it was some panic batting and brainless too, in some cases, from the experienced Pakistan batting line-up.

Middle order batsman Assad Shafiq may have chalked up 4,000 runs in the five-day format but he still hasn’t shown that he can be a matchwinner. His tame dismissal at the stroke of lunch doesn’t put him in good light at all; one expects a lot more from a batsman who has figured in 64 Tests for Pakistan. Babar Azam’s run out was horrendous as there wasn’t any calling from his partner Azhar Ali at all.

The voices to remove Sarfraz as Test captain would have also gathered paced after he too failed yet again with the willow. Mohammad Hafeez also couldn’t rise to the occasion and the batting from the tail — Bilal Asif, Hassan Ali and Yasir Shah were clearly reckless. Azhar may have scored 65 and was the last man to get out, but the result shows he too doesn’t possess the finishing ability.

There are plenty of pluses for New Zealand on the other hand and Kane Williamson summed it up well. “One of the characteristics we hold very dear is attitude. That was present wherever we had to get back into the game assigning different contributions with the bat, ball and in the field throughout these four days.

“I think the fighting attributes of this team really shone through and certainly today, it’s important to build on a number of parts to go into the next game, for sure,” said Williamson adding in theory it was an old-fashioned Test match in terms of slow scoring.

Having bagged five wickets on debut, Patel may have boosted his reputation as a left-arm spinner with Indian roots, but his real challenge starts now. It will be interesting to see if the 30-year-old Central Districts Stags cricketer can keep up the good work and show he is not a one-match wonder and is here to stay.

“I had so many different changes throughout my cricketing career but the biggest significant change is me becoming a spinner from a seamer. I think I made a great choice. Because of the height that I have I don’t think I would have lasted that long,” said Patel.