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Pakistan v New Zealand 2022/23

The Stokes effect? Babar Azam’s ‘mad’ declaration sparks dead Test into life

Pakistan captain Babar Azam sets the field during the third day of the first Test match between Pakistan and New Zealand at the National stadium in Karachi, 2022/23
Abhishek Mukherjee by Abhishek Mukherjee
@ovshake42 3 minute read

In the Karachi Test match against New Zealand, Pakistan were ahead by 137 with two wickets in hand when Babar Azam caused a stir with an unexpected declaration.

After New Zealand had declared with a lead of 174, Pakistan found themselves in trouble, first at 100-4, then at 205-7 against Ish Sodhi (6-86) and Michael Bracewell (2-82). If Imam-ul-Haq (96) and Sarfaraz Ahmed (53) bailed them out of the first scenario, Saud Shakeel (55*) and Mohammad Wasim (43) rose to the challenge to take Pakistan to 311-8.

With a lead of 137 and an hour to go, it seemed that Pakistan had saved the match – until Babar decided to give New Zealand a chance by declaring the innings closed. He had set them a target of 138 in 15 overs (or an hour).


“As you know, we wanted to get a result as I said at the toss and we went for the declaration. But the light was not good enough,” he explained at the post-match presentation. Unless he wanted any result, it is not clear how or why Babar had backed Pakistan to win: in 145 years of Test cricket, only once has a team bowled out an opposition in under 90 balls (England took 10 South African wickets in 75 balls at Edgbaston in 1926) – but that was a struggling opposition, not a team that had won the World Test Championship a year and a half ago.

In Asia, the record is 120 balls (India were bowled out by South Africa at Ahmedabad in 2008). In Pakistan, 153 (Pakistan bowled out the West Indies in Faisalabad, 1986/87). Clearly Babar had backed his bowlers to defy history – for from that point, only one side could have won the Test match, and it was not Pakistan.

New Zealand responded by promoting Michael Bracewell, who had batted at No.7, to open with Devon Conway. Once Abrar Ahmed bowled Bracewell in the first over, Tom Latham arrived to unleash his ODI avatar. When the New Zealand batters took 14 off the fifth over, Babar replaced spin with pace. Wasim’s first over went for 13 but by then, the sun had set and the floodlights had been switched on.

The umpires, Aleem Dar and Alex Wharf, took out the light meters. Finally, after 7.3 overs (exactly halfway through that 15-over mark), they decided that there was not enough light for play to continue with the pacers bowling. New Zealand were 61-1 at that point: they would have backed themselves to chase 77 in 45 balls with nine wickets in hand.

Exactly why Babar declared is not clear, though some suggested the impact of Ben Stokes and England’s new approach was being felt. Stokes bravely declared on the fourth evening of the Rawalpindi Test against Pakistan, dangling the carrot and giving his bowlers just enough time to secure victory late on the final day.

Perhaps a more apt comparison – of a captain going all out with victory only a remote possibility – can be found. It is not far-fetched to draw a parallel with Bishan Singh Bedi’s approach at the same venue on the 1978/79 tour. On that occasion, Sunil Gavaskar’s twin hundreds had left Pakistan to chase 164 in 100 minutes. There was no declaration – India were bowled out – but for some bizarre reason, Bedi never wanted to slow the pace of the game.

He kept the spinners on, tried to get wickets, and set aggressive fields against a Pakistan top order whose batters were seasoned limited-overs cricketers, at home and in England. “Towards the end Imran went berserk as Bedi kept trying to woo the batsmen out … It was clear that in trying to buy Imran’s precious wicket the plot was lost, and the Pakistani batsmen benefitted from that,” lamented Karsan Ghavri years later.

Bedi was sacked as captain after the series. Had Pakistan lost, Babar might not have fared better.

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