Unexpected announcement of Babur Azam

No one knew where the decision came from, least of all Saud Shakeel. The left-handed batsman scored 55 runs off 108 balls and forged an unbeaten 81-ball partnership with Mir Hamza. He was batting out of his skin to keep out Ash Sodhi – a man who beat the defense of six of his teammates. Ejaz Patel was also now consistently hitting the rough to trouble Pakistan, and it was all he could do to string together a few more runs, and shave a few more minutes off the game. Pakistan needed a draw, and he would provide it.

And then he looked up. Babar Azam was waving his hand and taking him inside, did he end the game by shaking hands with anyone? No, it could not be, the last hour had not yet begun. He actually announced! The two wickets that Shakeel was guarding flew into the air, with the Pakistani management apparently realizing that the game was out of New Zealand’s reach by then.

Not that it was meant to be an inevitable draw. According to Babur, the point of the announcement was the same as any announcement: to win the game.

“Saud was a bit shocked when we made the announcement,” smiled Babar afterwards. “He thought we were going for the draw.”

But for a brief period during that final innings of the evening, there were not many smiles on Pakistani faces. The first-over wicket gave way to Tom Latham’s counter-spin attack and by the end of the sixth over, New Zealand were bundled out for 55 runs. It was a rate that was enough to see them through to victory if the full 15. When the chase started, the available overs were to be bowled. With the light deteriorating rapidly, though, this was effectively impossible.

Babar turned to the fast bowlers and, 2.3 overs into the spin, the umpires decided it was too dark. With that, a rather surreal piece of last-day Test cricket ended.

“We said we will go after the result,” Babar said after the match. “We took a chance, you never know. This is cricket. Anything can happen. Saud and [Mohammad] Wasim Jr’s contribution was important for us as he brought us into the game. He put the idea in my mind that we could announce. You all must have enjoyed it too, and it surprised everyone. It was in our minds that we would take a chance because anything can happen.

“We sent a message before the announcement that the batsmen should assess the conditions and play according to them. Sometimes you have to take bold decisions and take chances. As a team and as a captain. , I try and do that. You plan for the outcome, even if you can’t guarantee it.”

It is not clear whether the decision to make the announcement was taken by Babur himself. If this happens, it will certainly be a break from historical precedent. Captain Babar has erred on the side of caution. Besides, Pakistan’s chances of victory were so remote that it is impossible to wonder if Babur would have kept his tongue firmly in his cheek when talking to them. New Zealand, after all, kept Pakistan out for almost 195 overs in the first innings and still were not out. The idea that the second one could take less than 10-15 overs seemed ideal.

The final hour or so may have provided some entertainment, but Pakistan’s persistent domestic woes did not detract. This is the seventh Test in a row Pakistan have failed to win at home. It has now been almost two years since his last win. They may have escaped a fifth straight home defeat, but the reality was – and Babar acknowledged it – this was a game New Zealand dominated.

“It’s not like we need to play different cricket,” Babar said. “We need to do things session-by-session and day-by-day. We need to stay positive and play aggressively. We’re working on it. Everyone’s game and mindset is different. Land has to be credited for his style of play and dominance.

“We lost the first three wickets but then we came back. [in the first innings] And put us in good stead. Imam [ul-Haq]Sarfaraz [Ahmed] And Saud Shakeel built a partnership in the patch in the second innings, and Wasim also contributed. Hence the batting line-up performed quite well.

“As a coach and captain we can ask what kind of wicket you need. You know the spinners dominate there and the fast bowlers’ reverse swing gives you an advantage. The fast bowlers bowled well. Appeals to his bowling, which also created chances. You don’t always get what you want but the conditions are the same on both sides.”

Daniyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000


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