20 Nov 2018

Black Caps win: Let's just bask in some cricket bliss

7:15 pm on 20 November 2018

The Test thriller against Pakistan in the UAE need not be marred by dark thoughts, writes Matt Richens.

Black Caps spinner Ajaz Patel.

Black Caps hero Ajaz Patel may be on the brink of a superb Test career. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Stop. Stop thinking it. Stop contemplating it, stop messaging your mates about it. Just stop.

It's far too simple to throw shade over the Black Caps' fantastic four-run test cricket win over Pakistan with hints, whispers and innuendo about match-fixing.

Please let us all just enjoy it for what it was - a thrilling test match, a great contest and a big win for New Zealand.

If down the track any cricket match is proven to have irregularities within it then let's deal with those then, but we test cricket fans don't always have a lot to celebrate because, well, test cricket doesn't pay the bills so we don't get enough of it.

Call me a naive optimist, but I prefer to think of the overnight victory as a thrilling, hard-earned test win featuring a cracking debut from 30-year-old Ajaz Patel, a win based on spin bowling (yes, you read that right) the expected, but still perhaps under-appreciated dogged determination of Neil Wagner and impressive team bowling.

Sure there was dumb batting in there, but anyone who stayed up late to watch more than the highlights will appreciate that was built on the back of clever, well-executed pressure building.

Kane Williamson.

Black Caps captain Kane Williamson can be proud of leading his side to its narrowest ever Test victory. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Why was this so special?

Why is any test win so special? We don't get to play that much test cricket now and my fellow nuffies and I love the time, the pressure, the slow-build, the nuance, the possibility of no result, the drama, the potential heartbreak and the ecstasy of a test win.

The All Blacks win - it's just what they do. They're the best team in the world (regardless of what Steve Hansen says) and they win. And we love it.

But this is different; we're a middle of the pack team in cricket. Away from home that title would be generous despite having a smattering of world class players now.

Then to pinch a win from the jaws of defeat; well my friends, that is sporting bliss.

If you're Pakistani you're accusing your team of choking. If you're a Kiwi or bipartisan, you're (hopefully) thinking about how New Zealand had no right to win that game.

Pakistan were cruising. Chasing 176 for victory, they started day four on 37 without loss.

Three quick wickets gave the Black Caps a sniff of hope, but at 130-3 just before lunch a number of people gave up and switched over - if my Facebook feed is to be believed.

A wicket on the brink of lunch kept it interesting, but Pakistan needed just 46 further runs, had their best batsmen Azhar Ali in and set and should have cruised to victory.

A great run out (they're always great when you win), then sensational bowling by Patel and Wagner in particular set up a squeaky-bum finish.

Patel caused a miscalculation by Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed, he was given a free one when Bilal Asif played the dumbest shot of the game, Wagner and Ross Taylor combined to nick out Yasir Shar before Hasan Ali challenged Asif for dumbest shot of the game and was caught on the boundary.

Suddenly, 130-3 had turned to 164-9.

Azhar Ali was still there and he and No 11 Mohammad Abbas nursed their way through to 171. Those seven runs took 46 balls. Then Patel secured his place in New Zealand cricketing folklore. Not by picking up the bunny Abbas, he trapped Azhar Ali in front.

The 30-year-old on debut, the same man who gave up being a quick bowler because he was too short and even with two New Zealand spinners injured was expected to carry the drinks, out-thought Pakistan's top batsman in his own conditions.

In doing so he became just the ninth Kiwi male, 12th Kiwi overall, to pick up a five-wicket bag on debut and has the fourth best match-figures by a Kiwi debutant.

If you can't enjoy that then I'm not sure we can be friends.

This was New Zealand's narrowest margin of victory in tests by runs, pipping the side's seven-run win in Hobart seven years ago.

Trent Boult was on debut in that game and he's gone on to forge a superb career; maybe Patel can do the same on the back on what I can best describe as a helluva introduction to the best form of the game.

* Matt Richens started writing about sport 12 years ago. He once scored more in an inter-school game than Brendon McCullum did in the opposition. Richens still dines out on it, McCullum doesn't remember. You can find Matt on Twitter at @mattrichens

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