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Pakistan vs New Zealand: Salman reaps the fruits of his labour

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KARACHI: In his six previous Tests Agha Salman had picked up just two wickets across eight innings. So when Pakistan were put in to field by New Zealand in the second Test at the National Stadium here on Monday, the 29-year-old — in the side as a batting all-rounder — would have given himself little chance of being the star of the day for the hosts on the opening day.

On a pitch that had a tinge of green on its sides, Pakistan had opted for three pacers. Salman’s role was largely going to be a supporting one for frontline spinner Abrar Ahmed. Yet, it was the off-break bowler who had the starring role: Salman’s figures of 3-55 till date saw Pakistan pull back New Zealand and leave them at 309-6 at the close.

And so, with a wide grin on his face, it was Salman who appeared for the news conference to reflect on the day’s work.

“When the team was announced, I did realise there will be some responsibility on me as the second spin option,” he told reporters. “But I try to contribute as much as I can, whether it’s with the bat or the ball.”

Bowled for prolonged spells by skipper Babar Azam, Salman put New Zealand in a spin. His first victim was New Zealand’s century-maker Devon Conway before he followed up with wickets of Daryl Mitchell and Henry Nicholls as the tourists slumped from a commanding position of 234-1 shortly after tea.

He credited his spin show to the work he’d put in the nets. “I work with [head coach] Saqlain Mushtaq for long time periods during net sessions,” he said, “and I will continue doing this.”

Conway’s dismissal came thanks to sharp glovework by Sarfraz Ahmed behind the stumps, the wicket-keeper who made his return to the side for the first time since 2019 in the opening Test of the series. Sarfraz had come under fire for dropped catches in the first game but here, with Pakistan desperately looking for a breakthrough, he held on.

“Dropped catches are a part of the game and they can happen to anyone,” said Salman. “I tried to bowl in the good areas, maintain a line and length. I think we also need to give credit to the bowling unit on how we came back in the game.”

With his three wickets, Salman reached 100 first-class wickets. He didn’t even know about it until he was informed about it by a reporter.

“Now that you tell me, I feel good as it’s a milestone,” he said. And he isn’t in the mood for stopping anytime soon. “If I get a chance tomorrow, I’ll definitely try to go for a five-wicket haul but I hope the pacers finish them off early.”

Published in Dawn, january 3th, 2023


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