Daniel Vettori century stretches NZ lead
The Test was evenly balanced at tea. New Zealand were trailing by 57 runs with only five wickets in hand, Brendon McCullum and Daniel Vettori were yet to settle in, Danish Kaneria was in hot form having run through the middle order and the second new ball wasn't far away. Either team could have grabbed the ascendancy. It was Vettori and McCullum who broke the shackles of the first two sessions with a combination of intelligence and exhilarating strokeplay, and seized control of the game.
McCullum was explosive, improvising constantly, while Vettori combined inventiveness with solidity to rapidly change the character of the game. New Zealand's nervous approach of the first two sessions - the defensive, perhaps over-cautious, batsmen struggling to survive Kaneria as several close catchers hovered around the bat - gave way to a thrilling evening. Runs came quickly and New Zealand swiftly took a sizeable first-innings lead.
New Zealand's jail-break was assisted by the Pakistan fast bowlers, who have caused batsmen the most problems this series with seam, swing and tight lines and lengths. Not today though. Umar Gul and the rest offered width with their short-of-a-length deliveries and Vettori kept picking boundaries with his favourite short-arm cuts and deflections. McCullum attacked Kaneria by playing the sweep and suddenly the floodgates were flung open.
At times McCullum placed his bat outside off, with his back foot in line with off stump, and started to create his own angles. Even the skillful Mohammad Asif lost his poise and sprayed the ball around. The shot of the evening was an imperiously-pulled six from outside off stump against Asif. McCullum startled the bowler again when he charged out to crash a length delivery over cover.
Pakistan seemed to have run out of ideas when, against the run of play, Gul got the ball to burst off the pitch towards the throat of McCullum, who fended it straight to gully. Pakistan also had an opportunity to get rid of Vettori, but Kaneria dropped a straightforward return catch off him on 97.
Until Kaneria's lapse, though, Vettori, who has marvellous self-awareness of the limitations of his game and thrives within them, had played a chanceless innings. He arched his back to cut short-of-a-length deliveries from the line of the stumps without making it appear risky, he walked across to work perfectly acceptable deliveries to fine leg and frustrated bowlers with his short-arm pulls and nudges. Once in a while, Vettori increased pressure on the bowlers with calculated big hits: he lifted Kaneria for a straight six, and swept him and pulled Asif for more fours.
New Zealand's 123-run lead at the end of day two, however, might not have been possible without the patience Tim McIntosh showed during the first session. The defining image of his half-century was not a shot but the military snap with which he shouldered arms. He left 59 balls alone and played 151 dot balls as he defended passionately. McIntosh's batting has almost an anaesthetic air about it but today's stone-walling effort wasn't dull or boring. He laid the platform and allowed McCullum and Vettori to express themselves later on.
McIntosh's defiance was the primary feature of the morning session, but Kaneria eventually broke his resistance and that of several others after lunch. Kaneria was allowed to settle into a rhythm because of New Zealand's defensive approach and it was his googly that caused batsmen the most trouble. Unlike in the past, when he has been guilty of overusing it at times, Kaneria was more prudent in deploying the wrong 'un today. He concentrated on building pressure with his bouncing legbreaks and sliders, and bowled a variety of deliveries that slowly suffocated the batsmen.
It was the wicket of Ross Taylor, who top-edged a slog sweep, that got Kaneria going. He bowled a few loopy deliveries on the leg side to McIntosh who suddenly began playing the sweep before top-edging one as well. Kaneria then turned his attention to Daniel Flynn, spinning a few legbreaks into the left-hand batsman before slipping in a googly that caught the edge. The appeal for caught-behind was turned down, but the decision was reversed after a review. It may have been the right decision, for Flynn seemed to walk as soon as the review was asked for, but video evidence wasn't conclusive.
New Zealand were 145 for 5 at that stage, having lost three wickets for 27 runs, and Vettori and McCullum had just come together for a partnership that would give New Zealand the upper hand in the deciding Test.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo