Babar Azam and Sarfaraz Ahmed rescue Pakistan on first day of Test against New Zealand

Captain unbeaten on 161 as hosts recover from 110-4 to reach stumps in Karachi on 317-5

Pakistan captain Babar Azam after reaching his century during the first day of the Test match against New Zealand at the National Stadium in Karachi. AFP
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Pakistan's current and former captains combined to rescue their side from a top-order collapse against New Zealand on Monday as the hosts reached stumps at 317-5 on the opening day of the first Test.

Babar Azam, unbeaten on 161, and the recalled Sarfaraz Ahmed (86) guided Pakistan to a position of strength after New Zealand made early inroads at 110-4.

New Zealand spinners had taken three early wickets on a spin-assisting National Stadium pitch and one before lunch but had to wait until the closing moments when Ajaz Patel got Sarfaraz caught in the slip.

At close, Babar and Agha Salman (3) were at the crease as Pakistan look to bounce back from last week's 3-0 series loss to England, their first ever whitewash at home.

Babar now has 1,170 runs in nine Tests this year — the highest run scorer in Tests in 2022. He also beat Mohammad Yousuf's 2006 aggregate of 2,435 in all three formats, taking 2,584 runs across the board this year.

Sarfaraz, playing his first Test since January 2019, cracked nine boundaries in his 256-minute knock.

“I finally got an opportunity and I hope today’s knock will help the team,” Sarfaraz said. “Of course it was disappointing not to get a century in my hometown, but the partnership with Babar was more important to me.”

New Zealand will be ruing letting Babar off the hook when he was on 12 after Daryl Mitchell spilled a regulation catch at slip off Bracewell. The tourists also failed to run out Babar on 54 when Devon Conway missed the stumps with the Pakistan skipper well short of his crease.

“Babar made the most of his chance and batted really well,” Patel said. “He continued to put pressure on us when we were starting building momentum … and he soaked it up. Obviously no one wants to drop catches, but it happens sometimes, it’s just the nature of the game.”

New Zealand's spinners dominated the first session, with Bracewell dismissing Shan Masood for three and Imam-ul-Haq for 24, while Patel took the early wicket of Abdullah Shafique for seven.

In the penultimate over before lunch, fast bowler Tim Southee dismissed Saud Shakeel for 22 to complete a successful session for the tourists, playing their first Test series in Pakistan since 2002.

New Zealand's decision to play with three spinners appeared justified, as the National Stadium pitch took turn right from the start. Patel came on to bowl in just the fourth over of the innings. He turned his third ball across a forward-playing Shafique, and had him stumped by wicketkeeper Tom Blundell.

Bracewell then had Masood stumped in his second over before Imam miscued a drive off him and was caught at mid-off. Babar and Sarfaraz then combined to rescue Pakistan's innings.

New Zealand, who abandoned their white-ball tour of Pakistan last year due to security concerns, are looking to end a run of four straight test defeats with Southee as the new captain following the six-year tenure of Kane Williamson.

Pakistan are seeking to overcome a similar slump, including a 3-0 home series defeat by England, in the two-test series against the New Zealanders.

Updated: December 26, 2022, 1:44 PM
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