Stumps Pakistan 207 for 4 (Azhar 81, Sohail 81*, de Grandhomme 2-31) v New Zealand
Azhar Ali and Haris Sohail summoned the spirits of what had made this Pakistan side so hard to beat on UAE soil, channelling it right through the middle session to take the wind out of New Zealand sails. After an opening session where the bowlers had bullied Pakistan for two hours, the pair's obstinacy began to pay dividends as the pitch flattened out and the ball wore down. Spanning almost 61 overs and spread across all three sessions, the pair gritted out a 126-run partnership. It helped Pakistan end an attritional day at 207 for 4, the scoring rate of 2.30 suggestive of the toil archetypal to Tests in the UAE.
The pair came together in the tenth over after New Zealand made short work of Pakistan's openers with the new ball. Azhar was the more forceful of the two during the partnership, doing well to have unclouded his mind after the heartbreak of Abu Dhabi. But if one player in this Pakistan team can be counted upon to show mental fortitude, it is him. Making the most of an early reprieve, once he settled down he was close to impregnable. He used his feet well against the spinners; Ajaz Patel in particular was not allowed to settle. A glorious six over long-off off the man who had sealed New Zealand's victory in the first innings would have felt like sweet revenge, if only a few days later than he really needed it.
Haris' effort at the other end was more attritional, though no less commendable. He found it harder to keep the runs ticking, but seems to have that invaluable trait of setting some store by his wicket. As such, he never appeared to be in danger of throwing it away as the pressure mounted, confident in seeing it through to the phase where the situation would be more fertile to quick runs. That time came, somewhat, in the final session but what was more important was he saw his side right through to stumps, looking almost comfortable against the second new ball even as Babar Azam at the other end was wobbling. 81 of 240 balls may not be on many highlight reels, but if you watch Test cricket in the UAE, chances are you'd look past the highlights, where you would find Haris towering over today's proceedings.
If it didn't strike as characteristic of Pakistan to have gutsed out a partnership with discipline, rigour, and resoluteness in the post-Misbah era, the mode in which that Azhar-Haris partnership ended was despairingly, delightfully Pakistani. For 361 balls, New Zealand had toiled without reward, and Pakistan had dug deep showing scant concern for the run rate. But this marathon effort would end with a run-out, confusion between the hapless Azhar and Haris ending the former's remarkable resistance just 19 runs from his first century since Misbah and Younis retired.
Asad Shafiq's dismissal was soft, typical, arguably, of the temperament that has held him back all through his career. A pointless slog against Patel to a ball he got nowhere near the pitch of caught his edge and found Neil Wagner at short third man, and until Babar's adroit resistance, a surfeit of wickets was looking on the cards.
In the morning session, Trent Boult had built the pressure while Colin de Grandhomme reaped the rewards. At the toss, which New Zealand lost, Williamson had made clear his desire to pad up first, but a miserly bowling effort from his side meant runs were tightly controlled as Pakistan battled merely to keep the visitors' feet off their throats. Only 56 runs were scored in the whole of the first session as Pakistan lost both openers early on. Azhar and Haris had been able to fend off New Zealand from further denting Pakistan while the pitch still retained some moisture and the ball some shine.
De Grandhomme was assisted capably by Boult, who gave nothing away from the other end while regularly hissing past both outside edge and the stumps. Mohammad Hafeez looked jittery and out-of-form as it was, but against Boult and de Grandhomme, he was effectively a walking wicket. The ever-unplugged bat and pad gap nearly brought about his downfall, and pokes outside off evinced edges. It was only a matter of time before one from de Grandhomme carried through - just - to Tom Latham, putting the 38-year-old out of his misery. With 66 runs from six innings since a hundred against Australia, Hafeez is once more reminiscent of the player Pakistan sought to move on from a few months ago.
Imam-ul-Haq evoked memories - not in a nice, nostalgic way, mind you - of Imran Farhat in the Pakistan whites, nudging and flashing outside off just when the opening bowling pair were swinging it away from him. He was reprieved once as early as the fourth over, when he drove de Grandhomme on the up with no foot movement. It was just as well he had flashed hard; the ball flew to Latham, who had no time to react.
It proved only a momentary stay of execution. Imam fell in exactly the same manner to the same bowler, who hung another one outside off stump. It was too much temptation for Imam to resist as he hung his bat out at it, leaving the rest to a very busy Latham at the slips.
That Azhar and Haris had managed to hold New Zealand off before lunch seemed pivotal at the time, and with both of them continuing the resistance right the way through to the final session, it could be one of the lessons they gleaned from the agony of Abu Dhabi. The coach Mickey Arthur had lamented Pakistan's failure to press home the advantage with the bat. So far, it looks as if Azhar and Haris had been listening intently.