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New Zealand v Pakistan

Pakistan have found a diamond in Mohammad Rizwan

mohammad rizwan
by Rohit Sankar 4 minute read

Mohammad Rizwan, the Pakistan stand-in skipper has had a good run in New Zealand on this tour and looks like the dynamic player the side needs in the lower middle-order.

Mohammad Rizwan had raced into his thirties at run-a-ball in Christchurch in Pakistan’s first innings. Out of nowhere, Trent Boult, who had been shaping the ball back into the right-handers, throws a short ball at Rizwan. The wicketkeeper-batsman is late on the pull and nearly gifts a catch to mid-wicket.

“I like that from Rizwan,” quips Brendon McCullum from the commentary box. “Here at the Hagley, you can’t just sit back and defend. You have got to keep the scoring options open. There’s bounce and movement here and Rizwan might have miscued that one, but the intent is perfect.”

An over later, a wild inswinger from Kyle Jamieson has Rizwan pressing forward, looking to drive, only to be beaten by a country mile.

“That’s a poor shot,” the judgement from the commentary box comes through immediately. McCullum would have none of it. He silences his co-commentator by backing Rizwan still. “It’s a loose drive, but this surface….,” McCullum does not complete his sentence.

The former New Zealand skipper knows a thing or two about the Hagley Oval. In his three Test innings here, McCullum made two hundreds: 195 off 134 balls and 145 off 79 balls. He strikes at a rate of 152.08 here in the longest format of the game.

Like McCullum once, Rizwan is the wicketkeeper and the captain of his side and has impressed on this tour with three fifties on the trot, part of a longer sequence of five successive half-centuries that began in England last year. But the former Blackcaps gloveman wasn’t just fanboying over someone he could pass the torch onto. He was alluding to the fact that Pakistan had a reliable lower middle-order batsman in Rizwan.

Since his re-introduction into Test cricket in 2019 after a solitary appearance in the format — notably, it came as a specialist batsman — three years before in New Zealand, Rizwan has six fifty-plus scores from No.6 or lower, the most by any player in Test cricket.

All of them have come when the team sorely needs him too. Here in Christchurch, he came in at 83-4 and made a 71-ball 61. In Pakistan’s last Test at Mount Maunganui, Rizwan walked in at 52-5 and 75-4 and made 71 and 60. In England prior to that, Rizwan made back-to-back half-centuries in the two Tests in Southampton — coming in at 120-5 and 75-5 — and was Pakistan’s Player of the Series. Back in Australia in late 2019, he made a stroke-filled 37 and a diligent 95 — 94-5 when he came in to bat — on his return to the Test fold, sealing his place as the first-choice wicketkeeper ahead of the seasoned Sarfaraz Ahmed.

His three highest Test scores have come in Australia, England and New Zealand. That’s as good a sign as any you would get from an Asian batsman. That they have all come in contrasting fashion shows Rizwan isn’t just a one-trick pony who looks to lash his way out of trouble.

In his second-innings knock at Mount Maunganui for instance, Rizwan was involved in a 165-run partnership for the fifth wicket with Fawad Alam. From 75-4, the duo dragged Pakistan to 240 before the partnership was broken. Importantly, they ate up enough deliveries — 380 of them to be precise, making it the eighth-longest fourth-innings partnership, in terms of balls, in the history of Test cricket — to give Pakistan a shot at defending their way to a draw. While New Zealand’s persistence eventually won out, it showed a side of Rizwan Pakistan would be happy to know he has.

His 60 came off 191 balls, and involved batting through an old ball that Neil Wagner was banging into the wicket and a second new ball that Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Kyle Jamieson were swinging around. When he was eventually dismissed by a Jamieson inswinger, Rizwan had shown enough mettle to vindicate Pakistan’s faith in him as their primary wicketkeeper and stand-in skipper.

That the leadership role has come only 10 Tests into his career shows the esteem in which he is held. Sure, he’s only a stand-in for Babar Azam, but he was already made the vice-captain for this tour. Like McCullum has found out, Pakistan seem to know what Rizwan has to offer: a versatile middle-order batsman and a player who doesn’t shirk responsibility, a shrewd reader of the game and a game-changer down the order.

The last half of it is yet to come to the fore, in Tests at least — he did show glimpses of it in his match-winning 89 when pushed up to open the batting in the final T20I of the series against New Zealand — but there have been enough clues sprayed around to picture what it could be like when he blooms in full. He went through a baptism by fire in Australia on his return to Test cricket with the Aussie pacers jumping in on him and Tim Paine throwing a classic Tim Paine line at him.

“He smells very nice,” Paine quipped from close behind the stumps as Rizwan settled in with the bat on his first tour Down Under. Be it taking on Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc in Brisbane or countering James Anderson and Stuart Broad under overcast skies in Southampton or batting through nearly 200 balls on a fifth day wicket in New Zealand, the myriad shades of Rizwan have indeed smelled very promising.

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