New Zealand pace quartet helped the side get back to winning ways © Getty Images
New Zealand pace quartet helped the side get back to winning ways © Getty Images

New Zealand were in dire need of a Test win. They were thrashed in South Africa in August this year and though they did beat Zimbabwe in their backyard; that was hardly a win which could have healed the wounds of loss against South Africa. The next assignment was even tougher; perhaps the toughest — playing India in their own den. It was not their familiar territory where the ball would bounce, seam, swing and do all kinds of things on greenish wickets. It was not a place where their pacers would consistently get the ball to rise to a batsman’s ribcage or a place where their batsmen would be confident with the ball coming on to their bat nicely. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: New Zealand vs Pakistan, 1st Test at Christchurch.

It was India; a place where even the best of the teams have struggled in recent times. South Africa were blanked last year; Australia a couple of years before that. To sum up, India tour was not going to be any easy and it did go as the Pundits would have predicted. New Zealand were whitewashed as India became the numero uno side in Test cricket. As expected, spin took centre stage and the Kiwis looked bereft of oomph against Indian tweakers. Going against their tradition, they drafted as many as three spinners in the first Test and two in the second. Even that could not save them from the massive defeats. Battered and bruised further by the loss in One-Day Internationals (ODIs), they returned to their country to prepare for the next assignment against Pakistan.

They desperately needed a win; playing at home only mounted the pressure. Some sweeping changes were made. The members of the spin brigade were either dropped or kept ashore due to injury. Squad was beefed up with pacers keeping the conditions in mind. Hosts were banking on the experienced duo of Tim Southee, who missed India series due to an injury, and Trent Boult big time and they did not disappoint. In addition, Neil Wagner completed the troika as New Zealand went into the first Test with this pace trio and debutant all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme as the fourth seaming option. The little known player of Zimbabwean origin was soon going to make a mark for himself.

As the action began on Day Two after a washed out first day, New Zealand pacers ran riot on a pitch that had greenish tinge and was complemented by a wet outfield. De Grandhomme made a grand debut as he registered the best figures (6 for 41) by a debutant for New Zealand and helped his side bundle out the opponents for an awful 133 in the first innings. Pakistan lost the Test there itself and kept playing the catching up game. Their pacers too made good use of the conditions to restrict New Zealand to 200, but the Kiwi pace quartet returned to haunt them by folding up their second innings on 171; thus setting up an eight-wicket win. Finally, in familiar conditions, New Zealand returned back to winning ways and needless to say, their seamers were instrumental in this win.

Swung, bounced Pakistan out

Pakistani batsmen have invariably struggled against bounce, seam and swing. So that had to be the recipe for New Zealand’s success at the Hagley Oval. The conditions too were conducive for their seamers, and they did not let their skipper down. How helpful the conditions at Hagley Oval were for seamers can be understood by the fact that for the first time, all 30 wickets in first three innings of a Test in New Zealand were taken by fast bowlers. Besides, Yasir Shah, one of the leading spinners in world cricket at the moment, went wicket-less for the first time in his career.

Coming back to the game, de Grandhomme exploited it to the fullest as he wrecked havoc in the first innings with his six-for. He did not rely on pace to get those wickets. In fact, he bowled in the range of 120-125 kmph; significantly lesser than the speed at which his colleagues bowled. But he was immaculate with his line and length and swung the ball both ways. In addition, he was helped by the sloppy shots the Pakistan batsmen played outside off stump.

In the second innings though, the Kiwi pacers employed the short-pitched bowling strategy with clinical efficiency and got the desired results. As many as five batsmen fell to the relentless short-pitched stuff being dished out by the New Zealand pacers. Wagner started the trend, which was duly followed by Southee and to some extent, Boult. The left-armer Wagner, who is quite an expert in attacking a batsman’s ribcage, had earlier given a glimpse of his tactic on India tour in the first Test at Kanpur, when he scalped Indian skipper Virat Kohli and Umesh Yadav with short balls aimed at body.

In Kolkata, he got Ravindra Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar Kumar with the same tactic and in Christchurch, in more helpful conditions than the previous cities; he got all his three wickets in the match to short bowling. While Babar Azam — his 100th Test wicket — and Younis Khan succumbed to the balls rising on to their ribs and throat respectively, Asad Shafiq was dismissed trying to hit a short ball out of the park. Southee too joined the bandwagon as he got rid of Misbah-ul-Haq and Sohail Khan with short pitched stuff. Boult, as always, had variations up his sleeves. He swung the red cherry both the ways at menacing speed and even unleashed toe-crushing yorkers out of nowhere; one of them earning him the wicket of Sarfraz Ahmed in the second innings.

Those who have closely followed Wagner’s career, they know this has been his pattern in bowling. He either bowls fullish in the hope of getting the batsmen caught in the slip cordon, or unleashes the short ball barrage. At Christchurch, the latter worked for him, and in the process he became the second fastest New Zealand bowler after Sir Richard Hadlee to 100 Test wickets.

The remaining job, which actually was little (target of 105), was accomplished by their batsmen Jeet Raval — another exciting debutant who scored 55 and 36 not out in the game and knocked off the winning runs — and skipper Kane Williamson — who registered the highest individual score in the Test. Henry Nicholls and de Grandhomme played their part too, along with the tail which wagged in the first innings.

Thanks to the pacers, New Zealand finally got back to winning ways at home. This is a great start for them which augurs well for the home season ahead.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)