Azhar Ali and Haris Sohail steady Pakistan in reply to New Zealand’s 274

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Dec
4

Tea Pakistan 81 for 2 (Azhar 34*, Haris 30*) trail New Zealand 274 (Williamson 89, Watling 77*, Bilal 5-65, Yasir 3-75) by 193 runs

Pakistan were dented early on with the removal of both out-of-form openers but, as has been the case all series, the middle order was there to bail them out.

Azhar Ali and Haris Sohail hung tight to help Pakistan out of a particularly sticky situation at 17 for 2, putting on an unbeaten 64 runs for the third wicket. Trent Boult and Tim Southee had combined for both scalps, with the wickets nearly mirror images of each other, both left- and right-handers edging to the slips off Boult, allowing Southee to take sharp, low catches.

The performance of Pakistan’s batting line-up has been fairly predictable all series, numbers 3 to 6 coming in to bail their side out after the departures of Mohammad Hafeez and Imam-ul-Haq. It was done impressively effectively today, given the 274 New Zealand posted was looking rather daunting.

But once the initial burst from the opening bowling pair was seen off, neither batsman ever looked discomfited, negotiating the movement of Colin de Grandhomme and Ajaz Patel and William Somerville’s offspin equally comfortably. The odd flash from Haris aside, New Zealand weren’t allowed many moments of excitement as the partnership reduced the lead to under 200.

Boult had removed Southee off what turned out to be the last ball before lunch, drawing him into the push outside off stump that he has been so susceptible to throughout his career. Though Imam fell in a curiously similar manner, the set-up to that wicket had a bit more to it. Imam, who hasn’t quite looked the same player since being rattled by a Neil Wagner bouncer in the second ODI, had his helmet shaken by a horrible bouncer that stuck in the pitch just enough to meet the batsman’s ducking head. The next ball, he hung back, pushing tamely at a fuller one, prodding to a diving Southee, completing a textbook one-two for any fast bowler.

In the morning, BJ Watling continued where he had left off yesterday, earning himself another good night’s rest with a continuation of the pluck and fortitude that characterised his batting yesterday. Another 70 balls were faced by the wicketkeeper batsman, while Somerville gave him dogged company, allowing Watling to add 35 further runs to his tally.

New Zealand notched up 45 more to their overnight total before they were dismissed for 274, Bilal Asif taking his second five-for in five Tests, solely accounting for the bottom half of New Zealand’s line-up as Pakistan took the best part of the morning session getting rid of the remaining three wickets.

A man whose position in the side was already beginning to be questioned – a mere three Tests after he took six wickets in his debut innings – Bilal earned himself some breathing room with his performance over the past four sessions. Even when he wasn’t among the wickets yesterday, he was as good as the irrepressible Yasir Shah, and today, he was the only bowler who looked like breaking through. Somerville, who had clung on for 99 balls to make his 12 runs, was the first to go as he misread the extent of the turn on a Bilal offbreak, allowing the ball to beat the slice of the blade and go on to hit the middle stump.

Patel and Boult didn’t quite offer the same level of resistance, and with Watling never showing any interest in farming the strike, Bilal had full freedom to go after the pair. He got the outside edge of Ajaz for a simple catch at slip, and beat the inside edge of Boult, knocking back his stumps, with Watling stranded at the other end, looking like he could partner another ten batsmen and still carry his bat at the end of it.

In the first hour and a bit, when the eighth wicket put on 45 in 171 balls, it had been slow going, not that it frustrated Pakistan any less. Watling was quick to dispatch a ball that missed its line, constantly pressurising Yasir to execute his plans perfectly. Yasir, for his part, wasn’t quite at his majestic best, and failed to add to his pre-lunch salvo yesterday, meaning that he will have to wait until the second innings for the two wickets the needs to break Clarrie Grimmett’s record as the fastest to 200 Test wickets.

For now, however, that isn’t the priority, and the later Yasir gets his next crack at the record, the better it will be for Pakistan, who need to bat with the same patience and reserve as Williamson and his men did over the last day and a half.

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