Updated: Jan 2
New Zealand and Pakistan lock horns again in the second and final Test at Hagley Oval in Christchurch, with the home side 1-0 up in the series.
It was yet another impressive performance from Kane Williamson's men during the 101-run win at Mount Maunganui. Yet it was not without some fight from Pakistan, who almost batted out the final day to secure a draw before last man, Naseem Shah, popped up a return catch to Mitchell Santner with minutes to go.
Despite Pakistan's strong start to the Test, in which Shaheen Shah Afridi reduced New Zealand to 13-2, the game quickly went away from them as Kane Williamson (129), Ross Taylor (70), BJ Watling (73), and Henry Nicholls (56) guided the Black Caps to a commanding first-innings total of 431.
As New Zealand have proven many times in the last few years, particularly at home, such a score provides the opposition with a mountain attack against a four-man seam attack that is currently on a rampage. Once Pakistan slipped to 80-6, things looked very bleak and despite some resistance from Faheem Ashraf (91) and Mohammad Rizwan (71), a first-innings deficit of 192 was always going to be too much.
However, there were plenty of positives to take from this Test for the away side. Shaheen looked consistently threatening, Rizwan looked in excellent form with a pair of half-centuries, Fawad Alam played superbly for his second-innings century, and Faheem showed promise as a genuine all-rounder. There was enough to suggest that Pakistan will cause problems for New Zealand, though issues remain around the form of the top order - Shan Masood, Abid Ali, and Azhar Ali contributed just 78 runs in the whole match - while Mohammad Abbas looked ineffective once the shine of the new ball wore away.
For New Zealand, the first Test was a landmark moment. Victory meant that they reached they became the world's No. 1 ranked Test side for the first time after a series of dominant wins at home against England, India, and Sri Lanka in the past two years. The challenge now will be maintaining consistency, particularly with Australia, India, and England not far behind. Yet with the much-improved depth at their disposal, they have every chance of keeping on to their No. 1 ranking for the foreseeable future.
Pakistan head into the Christchurch Test trailing in the series but boy did they make NZ work for their lead. Just four overs remained when Santner took the final wicket and that Pakistan got so close to escaping owed much to Fawad Alam and Mohammad Rizwan - two key men highlighted in the first Test preview - who came together for a stand of 165 runs in 63 overs in just the second over of the day. The partnership was, in turn, watchful, determined, and aggressive. Alam's century, his second in Tests and eleven years after the first must have been a moment of real satisfaction; cricket never fails to throw up individual battles within the team whole.
This will be a real confidence boost not just for this pair but for the entire top seven; the potential return of Babar Azam would be another boost for a somewhat brittle top three provided he can pass his fitness test. Shan Masood cannot yet break free from a run of unflattering scores registered since his century at Old Trafford; perhaps the hosts' pace attack reads this column as this battle was also highlighted in the preview!
New Zealand have not just a series victory but a place in the World Test Championship Final now in their sights and they won't let up ahead of the next Test. The home record of Williamson's men is ludicrous and while Neil Wagner's toes may deny him the chance to play, it would be a brave man to tell him he was missing out. Williamson will be loath to change a winning XI but this may yet be forced upon him; Daryl Mitchell may yet win his place. New Zealand cricket is a very happy place at present.
Watch Out For:
While Jamieson's outstanding start to his Test career and Wagner's relentless effort have taken the plaudits for New Zealand's excellent home run, the consistency of Tim Southee and Trent Boult with the new ball has been exemplary. Southee, in particular, has been in superb form, following on from his fabulous form in 2020 (26 wickets at 15.73) with another strong display in the first Test (match figures of 4-102), in which he became just the third Kiwi after Sir Richard Hadlee and Daniel Vettori to reach the landmark. In form and with plenty left in the tank, Southee could cause more damage in Christchurch.
Pakistan's attack was disappointing in the first Test, that is with the exception of Shaheen, who bowled with pace, accuracy, and consistency. His two early wickets put New Zealand on the back foot on day one and had he received more support from the other end, things could have looked a lot different. At 20 years of age, the left-armer now seems to be the leader of this Pakistan attack and you would not bet against him causing more problems for the home side at Hagley Oval.
New Zealand Team News:
Neil Wagner, who continued bowling the pain of a toe injury, is ruled out of the second Test and Matt Henry has been named as his replacement. Henry joins Southee, Boult, and Jamieson in a fearsome four-man seam attack that should thrive off helpful conditions. Mitchell Santner is expected to continue as the all-rounder.
T. Latham, T. Blundell, K. Williamson ©, R. Taylor, H. Nicholls, B. Watling (wk), M. Santner, K. Jamieson, T. Southee, M. Henry, T. Boult
Pakistan Team News:
The tourists are waiting on the return of captain and star batsman Babar Azam, who may recover from a thumb injury in time to replace Haris Sohail at No. 4. Faheem is likely to keep his place after an excellent 91 with the bat in the first innings, meaning no room in the XI for Shadab Khan, who also is available after injury. Naseem Shah was relatively ineffective and down on pace at Mount Maunganui but will likely be given another chance in Christchurch.
S. Masood, Abid Ali, Azhar Ali, B. Azam/H.Sohail, F. Alam, M. Rizwan © (wk), F. Ashraf, Y. Shah, S. Afridi, M. Abbas, N. Shah