After the disaster at Abu Dhabi, nothing short of exemplary would lift Pakistan’s spirits this series. The man to fit that adjective was Yasir Shah, who finished with the second best figures by a Pakistan bowler in Test history, his 14th wicket in the match securing parity in a series against New Zealand. It took under seven overs and 30 minutes after tea to see the New Zealand tail off, ensuring Pakistan wouldn’t have to bat again as they triumphed by an innings and 16 runs.
Yasir had four when New Zealand came out to bat after tea seven down. After Hasan Ali cleaned up Henry Nicholls – a beauty that ripped through the bat-pad gap and smashed into off stump, Yasir took centre stage again. He toyed with Neil Wagner in an over where he did everything but dismiss him, and came to finish the job next over. Wagner and Boult fell within three balls of each other, and Pakistan had their win.
New Zealand had come into the fourth day with the foundation of a good partnership behind them. But they would have known that decent, good, or even big partnerships weren’t going to be enough to get them out of this predicament; they needed gargantuan contributions built over several hours of sweat and toil. To that end, they failed almost instantly; with just 15 added to Monday’s score, Latham was adjudged to have nicked behind to Sarfraz Ahmed the very ball after he brought up his half-century. There was, arguably, some misfortune to his dismissal, with several feeling his bat had hit pad rather than ball before it fizzed through to the keeper. It was telling how close the call was: Paul Reiffel, the on-field umpire, went upstairs to double-check. Even that second opinion, however, didn’t quite guarantee the correct decision.
It wasn’t the most exciting session. Both sides were playing solid, if somewhat pragmatic, cricket. Taylor and Henry Nicholls batted with the knowledge of a pair who knew the wicket was easier than it had been yesterday, while Pakistan rotated the bowlers around to break up any rhythm, trusting a wicket was around the corner. There weren’t too many chances created, but every so often, Bilal or Yasir would produce vicious side spinners, to which the batsman could only stick out their bats and hope it didn’t clip the edge of the stump.
It wasn’t to be, though. A deep square leg positioned by Sarfraz to guard against Taylor’s impetuous sweeping found himself in the game. Bilal Asif had tossed one in that looked too short to sweep, and when Taylor went for it anyway, it carried straight to the man, another hammer blow to his side’s chances of survival.
Yasir made his first impact in the afternoon session when he broke yet another resilient New Zealand partnership, trapping BJ Watling in front to take his first wicket of the day. Until then, the pair had frustrated Pakistan in much the same way as Latham and Taylor had earlier. But just like the partnerships that came before, this one, too, was broken well before it could make the sort of impact that would threaten Pakistan’s dominance here, and New Zealand were suddenly down to allrounders and tailenders.
Colin de Grandhomme’s absence of a solid defensive technique against Hasan was exposed pretty quickly, as he swung across the line to a straight ball that clattered into off stump. Ish Sodhi’s resistance didn’t last, either, and with half an hour still to go before tea, it appeared Pakistan could wrap this up in time to make this the final session of play.
But Nicholls, who was instrumental to New Zealand’s win in Abu Dhabi for the partnership he struck with BJ Watling, was up for the fight again. Before this series, he had only two half-centuries against sub-continental teams – both against Bangladesh – but there is enough evidence of a strong character to suggest a stomach for this format. He was cleaned up for 77, and there, the last safety catch against a Pakistan win had been unloosened.
It was only right for Yasir to have the last laugh. Few men have dominated consecutive days in Test cricket as Yasir did here in Dubai, ripping through New Zealand as records tumbled in his wake. No Pakistan bowler has ever better the 14 wickets he took in this match, with only one person to keep him company on that figure. That man? Imran Khan. It’s hardly shabby company.