<
>
Player of the Match
Player of the Match

Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq tons headline see-saw day

Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq had a highly profitable union at the crease AFP

Stumps New Zealand 26 for 2 (Williamson 14*, Somerville 1*, Yasir 1-5) and 274 (Williamson 89, Watling 77*, Bilal 5-65) trail Pakistan 348 (Azhar 134, Shafiq 104, Somerville 4-75) by 48 runs

William Somerville, who had looked at best inoffensive and at worst simply not good enough for the best part of the day, is at the moment the difference between a dead series and one that could yet go either way. His four wickets ensured Pakistan failed to put up any significant resistance following the Azhar Ali-Asad Shafiq stand, losing their last seven wickets for 62 runs. Some fell in a freaky manner, like Babar Azam dragging it on off his bat and both legs onto the stumps. Others were so comical as to channel memories of Basil Fawlty and Del Boy, notably Yasir Shah, who lost his shoe turning around for a second run, and just couldn't send his captain back. Yasir never stood a chance of completing the run hopping on one foot, leaving Sarfraz Ahmed hopping mad at the other end. He could make little difference with the tail, as Somerville and Ajaz Patel wrapped up the last three wickets for just two runs. It gave Pakistan a 74-run lead, and if that sounds familiar, it should.

Make no mistake, Pakistan are still in the driving seat in this Test match, but just the fact they haven't already put this out of New Zealand's hands will be frustrating. The visitors may still be 48 runs behind and already down two wickets, thanks to an impressive start by Shaheen Afridi. To further press home the advantage, Yasir had Tom Latham caught in the deep off his penultimate over of the day, putting himself one away from becoming the fastest to 200 Test wickets. But Pakistan will almost certainly be forced into a fourth-innings chase here, with all the psychological baggage that entails, and from the position they were in half an hour before tea, that will disappoint them.

If yesterday's talk of couples had revolved around Trent Boult and Tim Southee, today was all about Azhar and Shafiq. A 201-run partnership that spanned the bulk of the day between Pakistan's most dependable batsmen had put the hosts in firm control of the deciding Test in Abu Dhabi, beyond New Zealand's total. Before lunch Azhar had reached his first Test hundred since Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan's retirements, while Shafiq got to his shortly before tea.

For much of the session, the duo carried on the solid work they had done since the start of the day, but they were challenged by better bowling, particularly in a probing spell by Tim Southee, who kept finding the outside edge of the right-handers without a wicket to show for it. However, the absence of an enforcer like Neil Wagner was telling, with Pakistan always confident of a pressure release from any end Southee or Trent Boult weren't operating from.

It was those two quicks who regained a measure of control with the second new ball after Pakistan had got off to a lightning start. Boult, in particular, gave Shafiq a number of nervy moments, exploiting movement and angle both ways. The seamer was judicious in the use of well-directed short balls too. But Shafiq overcame the habit of giving his wicket away after a good start to ensure Pakistan finished the first session with no wickets lost.

For much of the day, Somerville remained one of New Zealand's most economical bowlers, but manifestly lacked the bite required to take advantage of a pitch that rewarded both Yasir Shah and Bilal Asif on the first two days. The surface offered less turn than it had earlier, but one couldn't help wonder if Pakistan's spinners would have found a way to be far more troublesome to the batsmen; it is the one facet of the game where the visitors found themselves clearly outclassed. Even Patel from the other end was largely subdued for much of the day.

But it was those same spinners who allowed their side a glimmer of hope just before tea, with Somerville removing Azhar for his first Test wicket, and Patel trapping Shafiq in front, allowing their team a crack at an out-of-form Sarfraz Ahmed and subsequently, the lower order. Azhar was on 134 when he fell in the softest fashion, edging a sweep off an absolutely harmless delivery from Somerville, carrying straight to Patel at short fine leg. It got rid of a pair that had frustrated New Zealand for 72 overs, and at that stage, looked like it had killed off Williamson's hopes of walking away with a series win.

The lower-middle-order collapse, alongside with the capitulation of the tail, exposed Pakistan's weaknesses that have been festering over the past couple of years, and explained their fragility in the time since they became the world's best Test side. New Zealand were offered the smallest of windows back into the match after tea, and fittingly enough, it was Somerville, an accountant in a previous life, who ensured the wickets column continued to tick over while maintaining immaculately economical figures. The balance sheet isn't quite a perfect match yet, but New Zealand have bought some time to ensure amends can be made over the next 48 hours.

Pakistan 4th innings Partnerships

WktRunsPlayers
1st19Mohammad HafeezImam-ul-Haq
2nd13Azhar AliImam-ul-Haq
3rd11Haris SohailImam-ul-Haq
4th0Asad ShafiqImam-ul-Haq
5th12Babar AzamImam-ul-Haq
6th43Sarfraz AhmedBabar Azam
7th33Babar AzamBilal Asif
8th6Yasir ShahBabar Azam
9th13Babar AzamHasan Ali
10th6Hasan AliShaheen Shah Afridi