Stumps New Zealand 286 for 3 (Williamson 112*, Nicholls 89*) trail Pakistan 297 (Azhar 93, Jamieson 5-69) by 11 runs
Kane Williamson now has a century in every Test he has played this summer. This includes scores of 251, 129, and the 112 not out on Monday. All this after going nine months without any first-class cricket. These mean the prospect of a golden home summer and New Zealand’s No. 1 Test ranking look bright.
New Zealand have nearly wiped out the deficit with seven wickets still remaining, with the unbroken partnership between Williamson and Henry Nicholls worth 215, the best fourth-wicket stand for New Zealand against Pakistan, shading the previous record held by Stephen Fleming and Craig McMillan. Only Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane have more century stands (five) than Williamson-Nicholls (four) since 2018.
They came together with Pakistan on the ascendancy, having removed both openers and Ross Taylor in quick succession, the scorecard reading 71 for 3 shortly after lunch. This should have been 74 for 4, but for Shaheen Afridi’s front-foot no-ball to reprieve a tentative Nicholls, who nicked to Mohammad Rizwan. On three then, Nicholls made them pay.
From there on, New Zealand were authoritative. Once they overcame Mohammad Abbas’ early burst after lunch, runs that seemed to be at a premium prior to the break became available in plenty. Williamson, who was mindful of not jabbing at deliveries, also grew in confidence.
Williamson’s 24th Test century was a knock built on the old-school virtues of patience and hard grind. Leaving balls the manner in which he did came with the assuredness of where his off-stump lay. Dead defense early in his innings against the skillful Abbas meant respecting the bowler and the conditions. It wasn’t until he got to his half-century did Williamson break free.
He was on 10 off 48 at one stage in the second session when Pakistan were putting ungodly pressure on either side of lunch. With that iron-clad technique and the keenness to play with his bat close to the body, he absorbed it all. Then, as the sting went out of the attack, he didn’t let the early approach dictate his batting tempo for the rest of the afternoon. His next 93 runs came off just 92 deliveries.
As he strolled into the 80s, Williamson’s full range came to the fore particularly. One over off Naseem Shah prior to tea went for a four: a peerless cut, a nonchalant whip from middle, an on-drive and a nick through the cordon. The edge flew between Shan Masood and Haris Sohail, who earlier in the day pouched an excellent reflex-action catch at first slip to remove Tom Latham after Masood appeared to have nearly grassed it.
On 86 then, Williamson brought up his century soon after before once again settling down to shelve some of the flamboyance perhaps mindful of stumps looming. As New Zealand looked to shut off, Pakistan were caught snoozing too, as chances went abegging. Williamson was let off on 107 again with Masood fluffing a third chance moving to his right at gully off Faheem Ashraf. Then in the dying moments, Nicholls was let off when captain Mohammad Rizwan fluffed a straightforward offering off Shaheen Afridi.
Nicholls, like Williamson, started slowly. Tentative to begin with, he showed patience to wear the bowlers down and played with soft hands. He was challenged a number of times by Abbas, but soon after lunch, he adjusted to mark a fresh middle-stump guard and shuffled across to get closer and perhaps a touch outside off to negate away-going deliveries.
Like he did earlier in the home summer against New Zealand, where an early reprieve set the stone for a career-best 174 in Wellington, he made Pakistan pay. Quick to pounce on anything short, he cut well and used the pace to glide the ball risk-free between point and third man. From time to time, the slow left-arm of debutant Zafar Gohar proved to be the release he needed to get going.
Naseem looked out of sorts and short on pace, even as the rest of the attack wheeled away. It took Pakistan 11 overs to get the batsmen to play at deliveries, something Ashraf took cue from to get rewarded with the first breakthrough when he had Tom Blundell lbw with an inducker. Initially not given, Pakistan overturned it on review to break a threatening opening stand of 52.
In the next over, Afridi, brought back into the attack, after a rather lacklustre first spell, did what he should have done much earlier. He made Latham play the ball, which jagged away just about enough to induce the edge. Masood made a mess of the catch at second slip, but was thankful to Sohail and his freakishly good reflexes as he grabbed the rebound at first slip. Suddenly, it was two in two for Pakistan, a frustrating morning magically transforming into a fruitful one.
Taylor’s wicket soon after lunch put the cat among the pigeons. The match was on an even keel. Pakistan knew a wicket there and they would have he upper hand. They grassed the chance and saw not just the afternoon but even perhaps the Test slip away from their grasp.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo