Determined Pakistan stifle hosts
New Zealand 260 for 7 (McCullum 56, Guptill 50, Southee 56*) v Pakistan
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Pakistan continued to punch above their weight in Tests under a new captain, earning the opening-day honours by stifling New Zealand on a pitch that has plenty of runs. Their advantage was a result of their perseverance as well as New Zealand's failure to build on a strong foundation laid by Brendon McCullum. Kane Williamson and Tim Southee, however, revived their team with a fighting stand, promising another tilt in the scales heading into the second day.
Pakistan's decision to bowl on a dry pitch appeared to be a mistake, and for good reason. There was virtually no swing, only slight movement off the track, and with the sun breaking out of an overcast sky, the prospects didn't seem bright for the three-pronged seam attack. McCullum's dominating approach, particularly after lunch, as he drove and pulled Umar Gul for sixes, temporarily served a chilling reminder of Pakistan's apparent misjudgment. But his dismissal, the subsequent stagnation against Abdur Rehman's left-arm spin and a stroke of luck vindicated Misbah-ul-Haq's decision at the toss.
New Zealand had themselves to blame for the slide. The batsmen didn't take advantage of the opportunities given, through umpiring errors and lapses in the field, and slipped during a shift in momentum brought about by Martin Guptill's self-imposed grind. Following the lunch break, Guptill played out five consecutive maidens against Rehman, who kept a tight line around middle and off. Despite the lack of turn, he was played respectfully with a straight bat that seemed devoid of intention to force the pace.
McCullum's wicket was the trigger. Since giving up wicketkeeping in Tests, he has enjoyed his role as opener and was on track for a big score this morning. He went after Gul in the first over, driving him over cover, and was particularly ruthless against the over-pitched deliveries, cracking Younis Khan and Wahab Riaz to the extra-cover boundary. He showed no inhibitions when attacking, even though Pakistan had plugged his favourite areas. They had a deep point for the cut, as well as two fielders square for the pull, and he beat both. He should have been out caught behind when he gloved Riaz in the 19th over but this carefree approach cost him his wicket after the break. He mowed Gul over midwicket and then slashed him straight to deep point the next ball.
It was then that Rehman stepped in. Attacking with a slip and two close-in catchers on either side of the pitch, he bowled quicker through the air, and only managed to extract spin when he flighted the ball. He didn't threaten but the nagging line sent Guptill into a shell that led to his dismissal.
Guptill had looked assured against pace, leaving deliveries in the channel outside off when there was a bit of nip, and kicked things off with a couple of straight drives. But his misery against Rehman - he scored 4 off 44 balls against him - ended when the bowler gave him his best possible chance to score; the full toss, however, was gifted as a catch to cover.
In the interim Taylor, who had a poor series in India, feathered one to the keeper as he tried to cut Rehman. Ryder, though, batted enterprisingly. Deliveries bowled on the pads were deftly glanced to the fine-leg boundary and when the opportunity came, Rehman was slog-swept for six. But a moment of ill luck robbed Ryder of his wicket; he was run-out backing up too far as Riaz deflected a straight drive onto the stumps. Despite his half-century, it was a day to forget for the man who played that drive, Guptill.
Williamson, playing his first Test at home, batted with the composure that guided him to a century on debut against India and rescued his team from 177 for 7. Barring a dropped catch at slip, Williamson was solid and seized any chance to play his favoured back-foot punch through cover and point. While watchful against Rehman, Williamson freed up against pace, the standout shot being a straight drive off Gul bowling with the new ball.
Williamson's assured presence was complemented by a determined innings from Southee, who seemed gifted with timing. Several of his boundaries were firm pushes in front of square, or were guided the ball behind point. His second half-century, which included three consecutive fours off Gul, underlined what was possible on the pitch and what the frontline batsmen had missed out on. The unbeaten 83-run stand prevented Pakistan's complete domination on a placid track.
Siddhartha Talya is a sub editor at Cricinfo