'Wanted to keep Pakistan interested' - McCullum
When your opponent has chased down a score of 300 at more than five runs an over in recent memory, most captains could be forgiven for approaching a second-innings declaration with caution. Brendon McCullum is happy to describe himself as an "eternal optimist", however, and preferred to dangle the carrot of victory in front of Pakistan rather than take the draw that would keep alive New Zealand's chances of levelling the series.
No matter that Pakistan had chased 302 in 57.3 overs in Sharjah at the start of the year to overcome a defensive-minded Sri Lanka; McCullum was confident enough to set them 261 in 72 overs, in the hope that temptation might get the better of Misbah-ul-Haq's previously impervious side.
With Pakistan 75 for 4 and tea some way off, McCullum's gamble looked to have been well-judged. Asad Shafiq's dogged innings, in partnerships with Younis Khan and Sarfraz Ahmed, made sure Pakistan would hold on to their 1-0 lead but New Zealand could draw strength from denying the hosts a fourth straight Test victory while maintaining their chances of squaring the series in Sharjah next week.
"When you're making those kind of decisions, you look at the history of what's happened, how the opposition team has responded in situations like this and try and get a bit of information, rather than having to come up with a willy-nilly score," McCullum said. "So we looked at all of that stuff, the strength of their line-up, and we thought if we keep them semi-interested, that would give us our greatest opportunity.
"We didn't want to hand it to them, that's for sure, because we worked far too hard throughout the game to make a reckless decision. But the one we came up with kept them interested but also kept us interested and gave us enough time if we'd been able to knock over the top order. Credit to them but we'll walk away pretty happy as well."
Having posted 403 in their first innings, New Zealand were looking at a significant lead when Pakistan were reduced to 312 for 9. However, Sarfraz battled his way to a century during a last-wicket stand worth 81, which McCullum said prevented New Zealand from "dictating play a little bit more".
New Zealand were then wobbling at 125 for 5 in their second innings but recovered through Ross Taylor's century. In keeping with his reputation for positive captaincy, McCullum chose to declare New Zealand's innings nine down, after a brief salvo from Tim Southee took the target above 250, to give the visitors their best chance of victory.
"I thought it was a pretty fair declaration, there was enough there for the batting team to stay interested if they got off to a good start and there was also enough time for us if we'd been able to knock over the top order reasonably quickly to be able take 10 wickets on a wearing track," McCullum said. "From our point of view, we're trying to win Test matches and hence we went down that route rather than looking to try and bat out more of the day. I thought it was a brilliant Test match and, whilst there was no winner, a really good advert for Test cricket.
"It almost deserved a winner, it was that good a Test. We'll hark back to that 10th-wicket partnership where if we'd been able to make inroads at that point we'd have been able to go on and dictate play a little bit more. But it wasn't to be and credit has to go to Sarfraz, I thought his innings under an immense amount of pressure was outstanding, the way he shepherded the lower order through to that score.
"In times gone past there's probably a tendency for us to have gone into our shell after losing some of that momentum but I thought the way we came out and played positively and with some intent, looking to try and win the Test match was a real credit to us. It's a really good sign from my point of view because it shows that a young team is prepared to play aggressive cricket to get some wins in the column. The wins are what you remember most - we'll remember a lot out of this Test match but it would have been great to get across the line. It was certainly a gamble worth taking."
McCullum conceded that "winning the toss helped", breaking Pakistan's run of batting first and racking up match-winning scores, and he will hope to call correctly again at the start of the third Test, as New Zealand seek to extend an unbeaten run in series stretching back to May 2013. More runs from Taylor, after a relatively dry year, would also aid their chances.
"Ross' innings was brilliant," McCullum said. "The game was teetering. For him to come out, he's been a little bit lean on runs in the series, to have that utter confidence in his game, his proactive-ness put some pressure back on Pakistan. To keep doing that in trying circumstances takes a lot of courage and it was great to see him get a hundred and get us into a position where we could make a bold declaration. That was a big feather for us as well, delighted for Ross and delighted for the group, we'll take a lot out of that innings and the way we responded."