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New Zealand tee off after Babar declares, but bad light forces stalemate

Babar Azam’s unexpected declaration in the penultimate hour of the first Test in Karachi gave New Zealand a target of 138. After placing the call, Babar was beaming, yet it was an odd action. Although a tie was the most likely outcome, a New Zealand victory was still feasible despite the near impossibility of a Pakistan victory.

To open with Devon Conway in New Zealand, Michael Bracewell received a promotion. Tom Latham and Conway persisted in pursuing the goal even after Bracewell failed for three. New Zealand at one point required 83 runs from nine overs. As the game was called off with 7.3 overs remaining and the objective still 77 runs away, Babar’s face briefly lighted up with alarm.

Earlier, Pakistan came perilously close to suffering their sixth straight loss in the format thanks to Ish Sodhi’s first five-wicket haul. With over 50 overs remaining in the match, they were essentially 32 for 7 at 206 for 7, but a 71-run partnership between Saud Shakeel and Mohammad Wasim helped them escape trouble.

Wasim appeared to be batting much more easily in the last session. He even hit a six off Bracewell over beyond long-on, and a three off the next ball increased Pakistan’s advantage to almost 100. But in order to keep New Zealand in the match, Sodhi had him LBW with a flipper.

Later, when Mir Hamza rushed down the track from the non-end strikers but was sent back by Shakeel, New Zealand had a chance to run him out. However, Ajaz Patel was unable to catch the toss. But other from that, Hamza remained near Shakeel when he faced 34 balls in search of his undefeated 3. Shakeel scored six off Ajaz to bring his total to fifty, but Babar quickly ordered his men back.

Sodhi had owned the day up to that point. After lbw-ing Babar with a googly in the morning session, he added three more wickets to the one he had taken the previous evening.

Babar’s loss left Pakistan 100 for 4 but Imam-ul-Haq and Sarfaraz Ahmed revived them with an 85-run combination for the fifth wicket. Sarfaraz reached his second half-century of the game after lunch, however he was stopped by the very next ball. Sodhi’s ball was short and wide, but Sarfaraz toe-ended his cut into the gloves of the wicketkeeper.

Pakistan may have deployed Salman Agha in front of Shakeel in order to retain the left-right combination. In the first innings, Agha had struck a century, but this time, Sodhi managed to get one past his early defences.

The next over of Sodhi dealt the biggest damage to Pakistan’s aspirations. Imam had moved down the line during Sodhi’s whole inning to offset his turn from the unfavourable outside off. When he utilised his feet once again, at 96, Sodhi slid in a googly that left him stranded so far down the wicket that even a tiny delay in Tom Blundell’s ability to do the stumping didn’t matter.

The imam was enraged with himself. He used his bat to smash a chair on his way back to the pavilion before throwing the bat away. At that point, a victory for New Zealand was imminent, but Shakeel and Wasim managed to contain the visitors, even when they received the second new ball.

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