Babar Azam and Sarfaraz Ahmed punish New Zealand in first Test
Sports Desk: Babar Azam made a fighting hundred and the recalled Sarfaraz Ahmed hit a half century to guide Pakistan to a healthy 317-5 on the opening day of the first Test against New Zealand in Karachi on Monday.
The pair led Pakistan’s recovery from 110-4 during a 196-run fifth wicket stand, as the home team lost only Sarfaraz in the last two sessions.
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 for 86.
At close, Azam was unbeaten on 161 and Agha Salman three as the home team looked to lift from last week’s 3-0 loss at the hands of England, their first ever whitewash at home.
Azam 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.
The Pakistan skipper swept spinner Michael Bracewell for a six towards mid-wicket to reach his ninth Test century. He has also hit 16 boundaries.
Sarfaraz, playing his 50th Test and first since January 2019, cracked nine boundaries in his 256-minute knock but missed out on a century.
“It’s something I am sad about, but then I look back and think, ‘what if I had fallen without scoring?’,” he said.
Happy to return to the field after fearing he would not play for his country again, he confessed to needing some support from his team.
“When I went in and played the first three deliveries I had a very fast heartbeat, so during the lunch break my fellow players and Azam told me to relax, so I was calmer afterwards,” he said.
Costly miss: New Zealand will be ruing letting Azam off the hook when he was on just 12, after Daryl Mitchell spilled a regulation catch at slip off Bracewell.
The tourists also failed to run out Azam 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,” said Patel. “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 Haq miscued a drive off him and was caught at mid-off.
This is the first time in Test cricket history that the first two dismissals in an innings were both stumped.
Pakistan brought Sarfaraz, Mir Hamza and Haq to the side — with wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan dropped after playing 26 consecutive Tests.