ABU DHABI // Of all the weird things to have happened to Pakistan cricket in over 60 years, maybe the craziest is happening right now, or over these last two weeks. Pakistan are batting like kings. It is as if they have been making up for a lifetime of poor batting.
On the second day of the first Test against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi, they moved untroubled to batting nirvana. They added 297 runs to their overnight score and at 566, declared just three wickets down.
Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq both made hundreds and, to be honest given the run-glut that has preceded this, they passed off with about the same impact and inevitability of a yawn. It was Younis’s fifth hundred in five Tests, fourth in five innings, Misbah’s third in successive innings (becoming the first Pakistan captain to that feat) and well, so on and so forth.
There were collective records, too. It was the first time Pakistan had declared four innings in a row, the first time in the history of the game that a top five of batting order had made 80 or above each, the first time Pakistan had three 150-run-plus stands in one innings. It is a little bit much really.
The only real downer to their day was the nasty blow to the head for overnight centurion Ahmed Shahzad. In the last over before lunch, with a double century on offer, Shahzad tried to pull a bouncer from Corey Anderson.
He missed and was struck flush on the side of the temple. The blow knocked him down instantly and as he flung his bat, it struck the stumps. A visibly shaken Shahzad was taken to hospital where a scan revealed a minor fracture of the skull. He will remain under observation for 48 hours and could require surgery if the pain continues.
Such is the form Younis is in, he has taken to treating innings as challenges against himself, disregarding the opposition altogether.
Asked whether he has ever felt in better form, he said: “I have changed my mind a little in that every innings I’m not looking back at my previous innings. I got up this morning, looked in the mirror and said, I have a match against myself can I do it today or not?”
“Exactly that happened that I wanted. I controlled events around me. Sometimes it’s difficult, after playing Australia you lose intensity against lower teams.”
Unlike the first day, New Zealand were a little bit more frazzled on Monday. They shelled two simple chances, both from Misbah’s bat (before he had gone past 20) and off the unfortunate Ish Sodhi.
The young leg-spinner bowled wonderfully well for woefully little reward, though in dismissing Azhar Ali with a fizzing leg-break, he bowled probably the best ball ever bowled by a Kiwi leg-spinner (there have not been that many).
They survived seven overs to the close without loss but a long few days await. “It’s probably the toughest day or two of Test cricket that I’ve played,” Anderson said. “We saw Pakistan do a similar thing to Australia and I guess it’s our turn now to turn it round and come out and make sure we put on a good display with the bat.”
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