Having chosen to bat first on a wicket that has turned from the first session, Kiwis battled hard in a series decider in Abu Dhabi, after a threat of being rolled over by that man- Yasir Shah. Shaheen Afridi, Pakistan’s Test player number 236 joins a long list of left-arm pacemen to catch the selector’s eyes in recent years, bowled well. He trapped Tom Latham leg-before in his opening spell and finished with figures of 1-43 off 17 overs. He had replaced Mohammad Abbas, who sat due to a shoulder injury, sustained whilst fielding in the previous Test in Dubai.
The Black Caps were 73-4 at lunch and Yasir, not for the first time in the series, taking the centre stage. He sent back Jeet Raval and Ross Taylor (bowled of a skidder) in two deliveries and just prior to lunch also accounted for Henry Nicholls, bowled round the legs whilst sweeping. With the series hanging in the balance, the tourists could not possibly afford another collapse. The hundred of the innings came in the 43rd over and the tea time score of 145-4 reflected the tourists bouncing back, after a tough opening session. New Zealand run-rate did pick up a shade with 200 arriving in 74.4 overs.
Captain Kane Williamson, a class apart amongst the Kiwis, was up for a battle and could not be faulted for his careful approach. He reached fifty off 109 balls and was 11 short of a hundred when Hasan Ali, with a hint of reverse swing and in the middle of an inspiring, had him caught at short mid-wicket. The 104-run stand for the 5th wicket between Williamson and B.J.Watling, who is still at the crease, unbeaten on a battling 42 off 180 balls, was a real old-fashioned battle between the bat and the ball. Colin de Grandhomme, now an acclaimed bunny of Hasan, reached 20 off 22 balls before caught at leg-slip, having escaped a stumping off the previous ball, off Bilal Asif.
Pakistan bowlers remained wicket-less in the middle session with captain Sarfraz Ahmed, not quite at his best in terms of rotation of bowlers. He kept Yasir for too long as he bowled a 17-over spell, either side of lunch. After claiming first three wickets in no time, and now just two wickets short of fastest 200 Test wickets, he was far from unplayable but on this wicket, could still play a key role. Off-spinner Bilal’s opening spell stretched to 15 overs, again far too long as it allowed the batsmen to get themselves entrenched.
In the post-tea session Bilal, now looking more threatening than Yasir, picked up two wickets. He kept the pressure and also spun the ball and could have run through the tail but for the grit of William Somerville, the tall 34-year Test debutante, who hung around in the dying moments and shall resume tomorrow morning with 12 not out off 46 balls. A new ball, claimed in the 88th over, shall be the first challenge for the Kiwis, on the second morning.
Pakistan - Imam ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Azhar Ali, Haris Sohail, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed(c)(wk), Bilal Asif, Yasir Shah, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi
New Zealand - Jeet Raval, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson(c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling(wk), Colin de Grandhomme, Tim Southee, Ajaz Patel, William Somerville, Trent Boult
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