Hafeez 178* puts Pakistan in dominant position
Pakistan 281 for 3 (Hafeez 178*, Misbah 38*, Craig 2-67) v New Zealand
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Mohammad Hafeez missed the second Test of the series due to injury, went to England briefly to get his action tested, but he could have well been playing in Abu Dhabi where he had scored 96 and 101*. He started the day with a boundary through point and went on to complete his seventh Test century, making most of a pitch with no grass, no cracks and no signs of life. Hafeez's unbeaten 178 was also the highest anyone had scored in a Sharjah Test. The innings came at a good rate too, taking Pakistan to a dominant position after they had opted to bat.
Despite the unhelpful conditions, New Zealand had managed to pick up three wickets, including that of Younis Khan, in the first two sessions. But then Misbah-ul-Haq ensured the wobble was a minor one as he provided solid support to Hafeez in a century stand.
Hafeez grabbed centrestage but much of the attention at the start of the match had centred on the comeback of Daniel Vettori, who had been drafted into the XI at the last minute in New Zealand's bid to find a series-equalising victory. Vettori's previous Test outing was more than two years ago. This Test - his 112th for New Zealand - took him past Stephen Fleming as the most-capped New Zealand player.
Vettori led his team into the ground, knowing this could be his last Test and despite no first-class cricket in almost a year, started off with a maiden when called in within the first 10 overs. With no help from the pitch, Vettori was accurate in the three overs he bowled before lunch. The only time he lost his length, Hafeez carted him over midwicket for a six.
He had to wait for 35 overs before getting another spell. By that time, Pakistan had moved to 143 for 2. It took him only eight more deliveries to make his presence felt as he beat the in-form Younis with his drift and struck him right in front. It was Younis' first single-digit score this home season. Younis asked for a review of the decision after some discussion with Hafeez, but the replays only showed over and over again how Vettori's arm-ball had outdone Younis.
Hafeez had no such problems. He wasn't flamboyant as most of his boundaries came off three shots - the pull, the cover drive and the cut - but he remained busy. In the first hour, he scored 30 runs off the 40 deliveries he faced and slowed down in the second hour. It was only towards the end of the first session that he struck a couple of boundaries - one a pull off Ish Sodhi, another a smooth cover drive off Mark Craig - to move close to a half-century.
After a couple of overs of waiting post lunch, Hafeez moved into his stride again, cutting a Trent Boult delivery to reach his fifty with a boundary. He followed that up with a powerful pull off the same bowler two overs later, then stepped out to launch Sodhi over long-on for an effortless six. As the spinners settled in for a spell, Hafeez used the cut shot to good effect, finding regular boundaries with precision.
One such boundary off Craig took him to 99 and he completed his century off the very next delivery with an easy single. A prolonged sajda indicated the runs may have been the balm after a tumultuous couple of weeks. The calmness that he exuded at that stage also signalled he was focussed for a lot more. A couple of length deliveries from Trent Boult were punched on the up through cover, then the cut shot again, followed by pulls the moment anyone pitched short.
The ease with which Hafeez handled the bowlers was in contrast to how slow the others batted around him. He was the dominant partner in almost all the partnerships - 31 out off 44 for the first wicket, quick 46 out of 87 for the second, 24 out of 29 for the third and 77 out of unbeaten 121 for the fourth.
That the others were stifled was partly due to the New Zealand bowlers making it tough to score by sticking to their plans and partly because the batsmen did not disturb them from their plans. The seamers often changed the angle and frequently used the bouncers to keep the batsmen guessing and the spinners stuck to lines around off stump, but Azhar Ali, Shan Masood and, to an extent, Misbah were happy to block them out.
Shan Masood was reluctant to come forward to both pace and slow bowlers and scored at snail's pace. He finally paid the price as he came forward to Craig's first delivery to him and played down the wrong line. Azhar had moved to 39 off 101 deliveries before he played a loose drive to a wide delivery from Craig straight after lunch and was caught at slip.
In the overs that followed, New Zealand's three-men spin attack could only produce one chance. Misbah, on 20, got a faint edge on a turning delivery from Sodhi but BJ Watling couldn't get his gloves around the ball. Misbah responded with a fierce cut off the next ball and later smashed Sodhi for a straight six too. It was a clean hit, not as big as the two straight sixes Hafeez had smashed off the spinners. The effect, on the scoreboard and on New Zealand, was the same.
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo