A Test of honour

December 7, 2014

New Zealand have proved that with generous doses of self belief you can turn the tables on stronger oppositions

A Test of honour

Pakistan’s selectors and coaching staff will know in another ten days whether they can end the ‘home tour’ of ODIs on a winning note but if the third Test was anything to go by they will worry till the end no matter how they have started.

It was a massive counterattack by New Zealand in Sharjah and if anything Misbah and Co. must be cursing themselves for not going for the target on the last day of the second Test. With their conservative approach based on perhaps the assumption that they can’t lose the series after their showing against Australia and the first Test against the Kiwis they have forfeited the opportunity to win a series against New Zealand. But New Zealand it seemed were playing for honour as much as for a win.

Perhaps they thought that the Kiwi resurgence in the second innings of the second Test was a fluke. But the manner in which they came back in their first innings took everyone by surprise. It was more of a shock considering they were in mourning more than the Pakistanis over the tragic passing away of Philip Hughes that had promulgated a rest day after Pakistan’s mastery on opening day.

What must scare the selectors is the manner in which they took on the Pakistani spinners who for the past six weeks had looked unplayable. There had been the hint based on previous outings with the New Zealanders that their batting was stronger than the Aussies but something as massive as what they achieved was unexpected by Waqar Younis and his bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed.

So the question arises: Was this the real thing and was it that Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah had exerted more of a psychological push on the batsmen from both sides of the Tasman Sea? And that once the more positive New Zealanders set their minds to it they found the bowling not much of a threat if faced with self belief.

It is difficult for the caching staff and the spinning pair to blame a flat pitch. After all it was on that second day and in just one session that Craig took those seven wickets that ate into the Pakistani middle-order that had dominated over the past four Tests here.

Can it be that the Pakistani spinners relaxed thinking that it was McCullum who was on a road trip and that they just had to bear his whirlwind approach? And that the rest would be usual fodder for them? I feel it was and that knowing McCullum’s reputation they felt that once he got out they would claw back. But what they perhaps didn’t realize is that by the time he did get out he will have flattened them up so much that they would be shaken up bowling to his teammates also.

That is what great batsmen do; they play not just for themselves but also for the rest. What Williamson and the others who followed gained was a quick cram session on how to play spin. Also the weight of the runs that McCullum piled up and so quickly was the key to success. Spinners are slow men in planning and not just delivering. They like to write a longer script. McCullum gave them no time to think in between overs let alone between deliveries.

Strange that it came when the New Zealanders clearly showed emotions, or rather lack of it if celebrating wickets was concerned. One would have thought that their preoccupation with the loss of their friend in Sydney would just make them play out the day without any ambition. But like professionals they went about their business whatever their state of mind. They were here to win and not even a tragedy of such proportions should stop them from doing that.

At this point I must put in a word about the young man who gave his life to cricket in more ways than one. No death can ever be acceptable to the mind and heart; when it comes in such dramatic fashion it jolts you even more. The romantic will say that he died with his pads on but this is not a time for romantic endings. That is for novels and films.

That he was a young man full of promise and that he had a countenance that was so appealing has made it worse. There had also been the hope for those of us sitting so far away and not being updated minute by minute. He would come out of it one thought; it would just take time. Probably the real tragedy would be that he would miss the season, maybe never play again. But to pass away forever was a shock.

There has been talk whether it should have led to abandonment of a day’s play in a Test match far away. I just feel that if it had not been New Zealand and maybe an Asian country playing Pakistan then the match could have been played after observing a minute’s silence and wearing black armbands. But the Kiwis are close cousins of the Australians and Hughes was a teammate of a couple of them as the various cricket leagues of the world go. It would have been very odd for them to carry on playing and being so insensitive.

That is why I think there is nothing wrong in Saad Shafqat, the well respected cricket writer, tweeting and asking whether a day in an Ashes Test would have been cancelled had a Pakistani first class cricketer died in such fashion. Although it remains a hypothetical question but I would say probably not. But the fact is that if it had or in this case if it did, it was probably the right thing to do. A life ended and it was a cricketing act that finished it. Going through the same act within an hour of hearing it gone must have dulled the senses. You just can’t go in and play in a state of mind like that. Knowing after every ball you bowl and every shot you play that someone close has just been stopped from doing that would have been too heavy.

I feel the PCB, the Pakistani team management and the players need to be congratulated on the manner in which they shared the grief of a nation and Hughes’ family. Even Mohammad Hafeez showed no emotion in missing out on a double century. That showed that the Pakistanis really felt for the occasion. It showed that sometimes and in some settings the player can be bigger than the game. Even if he is no more.

A Test of honour