Black Caps win dramatic second test against Pakistan in Hamilton, take series
No doubts about it, test cricket is still alive and well.
It threatened to deceive for a while on Tuesday, but after the Black Caps bowled their way to a stunning 138-run victory on the final day of the second test against Pakistan, in Hamilton, all the things so great about the five-day game were there to light up the gloomy skies above Seddon Park.
Just as it looked like everything was going to happen a little too late, New Zealand grasped the new ball and ripped through Pakistan in dramatic fashion, to claim a 2-0 series victory.
In pursuit of an unlikely 369 to draw the two-match series, the tourists, who were 158-1 at tea, ended up bowled out for 230, losing 10 wickets for 99, and their last six for just 26, in 11 overs.
It's these kind of scenarios which make victories all the more sweeter, and captain Kane Williamson knew as much, his team having been sent in on a green one and fighting till the end to claim the spoils, as he was able to look back on his declaration with pleasure.
"As a player, nothing quite compares to test wins - five days of hard toil, consistent performances, you certainly have to earn it, it doesn't happen by chance," he said. "And I guess that's one of the most pleasing things, if you can look back at the end of it given everything and come away with the win it's pretty special."
It was New Zealand's first test series win over Pakistan since 1985 and the 2-0 victory edged them ahead of Sri Lanka and into No 6 on the ICC test rankings. This was a Pakistan side which had gone unbeaten in seven series, dating more than two years, and which entered the series ranked No 2 in the world but have now slid to No 4.
The skipper said it was "without a doubt, right up there" for one of the more dramatic final sessions he's ever played in, and that it was a great way to start a busy summer.
"It was going to be a big challenge, and it was for us - coming home from India, a tough series against South Africa - the way the guys picked themselves up, I suppose went back to the drawing board, how we like to play our cricket at home, that we're familiar with. Sometimes the baggage from previous results can be tough to get past."
It was feisty Neil Wagner (3-57 off 20.1 overs) who brought New Zealand home, striking three times late in the piece, as the Black Caps wrapped things up with just 8.5 overs left.
The gutsy left-armer was introduced for one final burst and produced two beauties in the space of three balls to have Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz both caught behind for second ball ducks to send Pakistan tumbling to nine wickets down.
Then, in his next over, Wagner had Imran Khan short-arm jabbing, with Tom Latham pulling in an absolute screamer at short leg, to start the celebrations.
Those festivities were set to continue into the night, despite a Wednesday afternoon flight across the Tasman for the Chappell-Hadlee ODI series which starts on Sunday, with Williamson acknowledging how important it was to toast success.
"It's very special, guys are extremely stoked, we'll celebrate it tonight," he said.
"It is important we certainly celebrate this win, one of the great test wins."
The visitors had resumed on 1-0 after facing three overs on Monday evening, and with 98 overs on the final day anything was possible, though the target of 369 represented what would have been the seventh-equal highest chase in test history.
They could have set up an entertaining day, but as Pakistan crawled to lunch at 76-0, the writing was seemingly on the wall.
Openers Azhar Ali (58 off 161 balls) and Sami Aslam (91 off 238) showed stoic resistance in putting on 131 for the first wicket, and New Zealand couldn't break through until the 60-over mark, as the bowlers toiled on a surface which had begun as very seamer-friendly but which then held very few demons.
Pakistan went into the final session requiring 211 off a minimum of 34 overs at 6.21. But despite all the Twenty20 played now, test cricket is still a very different game, with two bouncers an over and no field restrictions.
They came out after tea with the intent of throwing the bat, but that all changed rather quickly when promoted dangerman Sarfraz Ahmed was the fourth man gone - runout by Colin de Grandhomme. Captain Ali acknowledged that that was the point when they called to shut up shop.
With the new ball just around the corner, New Zealand still sniffed an opportunity. And it did the trick, with Matt Henry, Tim Southee and de Grandhomme all striking, before Wagner's late magic.