Sunday, December 13, 2009

Butt and Farhat halve large NZ lead

Pakistan 128 for 0 (Butt 66*, Farhat 55*) and 223 trail New Zealand 471 (Vettori 134, Tuffey 80*, Tuffey 76*, Kaneria 7-168) by 120 runs

If Pakistan's batsmen had applied themselves in the first innings the way they did in the second, a draw would have been the most likely result of the Napier Test. As it stands now, Pakistan are still trailing by 120 runs with two days remaining, though a determined performance from their openers cut the first-innings deficit by more than half.

And don't shake your head in disbelief when you look at the scorecard. Daryl Tuffey, whose previous best was 35, nearly reached his maiden Test hundred as New Zealand gained control of the decider. However, their vice-like grip on the contest - they led by 248 runs when the innings ended after lunch - had loosened at stumps with Salman Butt and Imran Farhat reaching half-centuries during a 128-run association.

The second and third sessions made for fascinating watching. New Zealand's rudimentary plan A appeared to be heavily influenced by Pakistan's terrible first-innings effort. They bowled outside off stump to the left-hand openers, who normally are crease-bound, hoping they would reach out and commit mistakes. To Butt, who tends to fall over on his front foot, they occasionally brought the ball back in to try force an lbw, and for Farhat they had a short mid-off in place and waited for the airy drive.

Plan A didn't work, though, for the openers were determined not to chase anything they didn't have to and also because there was not much help from the pitch. Slowly, the batsmen began to play square and cover drives and New Zealand started to bowl with more imagination in the second session. The seamers attacked the stumps more, slipped in the odd delivery outside off and Vettori as usual was on target. However, Butt and Farhat continued to be patient and reaped the benefits.

Both batsmen stayed adjacent to the line of the ball and generally favoured the off side more with their drives, bottom-hand punches and cuts. The disciplined effort was in stark contrast to the extravagance in the first innings but they might have learnt hard lessons from watching Vettori and Tuffey thrive when New Zealand batted.

Tuffey's innings showed how good the Napier pitch was for batting. It also said much about Pakistan's listless bowling display and highlighted the mess they dragged themselves into due to a poor first-innings performance. As you would expect from a third-day track, Danish Kaneria found some spin and completed his five-for but the morning belonged to Vettori and Tuffey.

Vettori cruised along, using his bottom hand to flash length deliveries through cover and carve short-of-a-length balls through cover point, and continued to improvise without much risk. Like he did so effectively last evening, Vettori teased Pakistan with his calculated shuffles. He moved towards off to flick to square-leg and would create more room for his cuts by arching back. Pakistan didn't have anyone with pace to hurry Vettori into making mistakes and it took a stunning fielding effort to dismiss him. Vettori drove one well to the left of short extra cover where Umar Akmal flung himself to hold on to the catch.

Tuffey had a few problems against Kaneria - he was dropped, on 32, by Umar Gul at long-leg off an attempted sweep and survived couple of appeals for lbw - but he was solid against the fast bowlers. He handled the short ball without problems and cut at every opportunity. He brought up the fifty partnership with Vettori and his half-century with cut shots, and dispatched Kaneria over long-on. Tuffey's best, though, was an on drive that bisected long-on and long-off. He leaned forward to a flighted legbreak, took his front leg out of the way and drove through the line, past the startled bowler.

It was a shot that a top-order batsman would have been proud of, and it not only reflected his confidence but also said much about Pakistan's state of mind. By the day's close, however, Pakistan's openers had redressed the imbalance and left it open to several results.

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