The lead had swollen to almost 150, a wicket hadn’t fallen for more than 56 overs, the 162-run partnership between Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls was showing no signs of coming to an end. The match, slowly but surely, was slipping out of Pakistan’s hands.
Skipper Sarfraz Ahmed was offered the option to change things. The new ball was available. Anything more than 150 was already going to be a difficult target to chase down as the prospect of day five loomed. But all was not yet lost.
The new ball could have meant quick wickets or it could have meant quick runs. It was change that could have been for the better or for the worse, but at least it was change. And change offers hope. Instead, Sarfraz chose to ignore it and watched as Williamson and Nicholls took the game completely away from his side.
When taking wickets was the only way of wrestling back initiative in a series where momentum had shifted almost with every session, Sarfraz decided the best option was to defend the flow of runs.
By stumps, the lead had reached nearly 200 and there was a strong feeling that it was already too late. Pakistan’s only option now seemed to be to delay the inevitable declaration by keeping it as tight as possible so they had fewer overs to survive.
Instead, Hasan Ali started day five with a new ball in hand.
When preventing the flow of runs was the only prudent decision, Sarfraz opted to go for wickets. In the nine overs that followed, four wickets fell but Pakistan also leaked 81 runs as New Zealand went into T20 mode.
Sarfraz’s plan in the third innings was exposed so badly that it looked like he decided Pakistan should go into the fourth innings without one in the first place.
With 80 overs to survive and 280 runs to get, the team was left with two options — either play aggressively and try to chase down the target or be defensive and see out the overs to earn a draw. Instead, they went for neither one nor the other.
The thinking seemed to be to see how things were till lunch and then take it from there. The indecisiveness proved costly and Pakistan already had half the team back in the pavilion by the time lunch was called. The match and the series, for all intents and purposes, were lost.
The defeat means Sarfraz has now lost half of his 10 Tests as captain; winning four and drawing the other. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
The biggest criticism of previous skipper Misbahul Haq was that Pakistan were too slow and too defensive under him, but the side’s run-rate has decreased from 3.05 under Misbah to 2.93 under Sarfraz. What is even more worrying is that the run-rate of the opposition has gone down too; suggesting a more defensive approach in bowling mindset and field placements. Under Misbah, all teams barring Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and West Indies scored at more three runs an over. Under Sarfraz, England are the only team with a run-rate of more than three runs an over.
This is surprising coming from someone who has taken Pakistan to unprecedented heights in the shorter two formats of the game, especially T20Is.
But perhaps not so considering there seems to be a stark difference between Sarfraz the T20I captain and Sarfraz the Test captain. While he has an overly hands-on approach in the T20Is —living every ball from behind the stumps, screaming and shouting at his players, giving constant feedback and generally looking as busy as a bee — he takes a more dignified approach when it comes to Tests.
It makes sense to pace yourself over five days of cricket but Sarfraz seems to have decided he would spend the same amount of energy in every match; whether it be 40 overs, 100 overs or 450 overs.
Sarfraz is no fool and he understands that the demands of Test captaincy are unique, but he is overcompensating for it at the moment; to the extent that there are times when it becomes painfully clear that Test leadership does not come naturally to him.
In T20Is, he goes for the jugular at every opportunity. In Tests, he brings the batsmen an armchair and offers to fetch them a cup of tea. It makes him look either uninterested or incapable when wearing the all-white.
Sarfraz’s T20I side has a few flaws but being timid is not one of them. Sarfraz’s Test team has a few saving graces but being brave is not one of them.
Pakistan travel to South Africa next. If the side is to avoid a whitewash there, let alone a series defeat, then Sarfraz must fix his own approach and stop doing his best Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde impression.