Colin de Grandhomme had not had a fun series with the bat. Zero, 3, 0 and 14 coming into this Test and if it’s possible, he didn’t much look like getting those either. He had not had a fun time with the bat for a while. The 14 was his highest score in any format in ten innings, since a Plunkett Shield hundred in October.
The best thing about his 20 in the first innings in this Test was that at least it was higher than 14. It was a scatty innings, a batsman trying to swing his way out of a rut. He could’ve been out the ball before he was dismissed. Stereotyping is lazy but in the mind’s eye, there’s a particular kind of innings you’ve come to expect from a lower-middle order New Zealand batsman, the kind that, say, a BJ Watling can grind out. This was the opposite of that.
On Friday morning when de Grandhomme came out to bat, New Zealand were under less pressure than they had been all Test. Not de Grandhomme, though. After the first Test win, where he scored one more run than he took wickets, there was speculation about whether he might be dropped for the next Test. Despite New Zealand having won the Test and not being a side that easily changes a winning XI.
Kane Williamson had been dismissed off the morning’s first ball and what New Zealand needed was either quick runs for a declaration, or at least a little steadying to make sure there’s no collapse. What de Grandhomme needed was a performance.
He got it, sort of. His 19-ball blitz was part of a 62-run stand in just six overs with Henry Nicholls. You could look at it and think it’s just 26 runs in a side chasing a declaration. And it is. And you could also think that against Pakistan on a last day, they didn’t even need to go that hard.
But if you wanted to understand this series win, New Zealand’s first away from home against Pakistan in 49 years – the last time they did it, Hanif Mohammad was still playing Test cricket – this is your in. It was built on little contributions throughout the side.
Five of their batsmen made eight fifties between them. Four Pakistani players made hundreds but in a series of mid-sized totals, only two made fifties. Pakistan’s highest wicket-taker Yasir Shah took over 50% of the wickets Pakistan’s bowlers did in the series. The 13 wickets Ajaz Patel, New Zealand’s highest wicket-taker, took by contrast, represented just 30%.
Neil Wagner, who didn’t play this Test, was a giant in the first; Tim Southee, who didn’t play the first two, took four wickets here. On the final afternoon, Southee was bowling at one end and standing at leg slip for Will Somerville at the other, with a helmet on. Even if Southee is a regular slipper, a fast bowler bowling at one end and wearing a helmet close-in at the other would seem outlandish in any team other than New Zealand’s. It is this kind of ethic that helped them turn not one but two first-innings deficits into wins.
Even the one inarguably great individual contribution to this win, Williamson’s 139, the creator outright refused to talk about. In fact the best thing about it was the collective gains.
“It was just great to be part of a partnership with Henry Nicholls who played a fantastic knock to try and get our team in a position of strength,” Williamson began. “And then the middle-lower order players to come in, to put some icing on that second innings by scoring quickly and putting our team in a position was all the more pleasing.
“So I don’t look at it and reflect personally too much. I look at it from a team perspective and what we were able to do as a collective, everybody chipped in, everybody had a role to play trying to help the team move forward to a strong position. That would be the best part about it for me.”
This is proper cricket stereotyping – fancy that eh, a New Zealand side greater than the sum of its parts? – but what of it if it is true? They have, without attracting undue attention, won five of their last six series. It includes a series win against England and if the last day of their final Test against South Africa had not been washed out in 2017, it would be six series undefeated.
They may be a team in the truest sense of the word and they may be nice guys (they’re the first team to visit these shores and have a photograph taken on the field at the end of series with the local groundstaff and stadium officials – take that Brad Haddin), but they’re also a very good side. This was their first Test series in seven months and they’re now one of two visiting sides not to have lost a series in the UAE. Unlike South Africa, they’ve won one here.
All of it will pass everyone by when the World Test Championship comes by next year and people start wondering who the favourites are. New Zealand won’t much care then and they probably don’t much care for now.
“Every game is different and you are always looking to learn and improve,” Williamson said. “We have plenty of cricket coming up in our home summer which will provide us with different challenge but right here, right now is a great moment for our side.
“To work so hard for three-and-half weeks with the Test format, to stay with it from our team’s perspective throughout three weeks with some relatively inexperienced players who really stepped up and were a big part of our side is something we will look back and be really fond of and hopefully that will help in our progression.”