Stumps: Pakistan 227 and 37 for 0 (Imam 25*, Hafeez 8*) need another 139 runs to beat New Zealand 153 and 249 (Watling 59, Nicholls 55, Hasan 5-45, Yasir 5-110)
This isn't a Test designed for predictions, but a gruelling day where momentum ebbed and flowed ended with Pakistan in a strong position to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match Test series. Five wickets each for Yasir Shah and Hasan Ali helped trigger a New Zealand collapse which saw them lose their last six wickets for 29 runs, leaving Pakistan 176 to win. Pakistan, spearheaded by Imam-ul-Haq, made a positive start in the eight overs before stumps, knocking down 37 of them without losing a wicket.
New Zealand had threatened to take the game away with a steely 112-run partnership for the fifth wicket between BJ Watling and Henry Nicholls that spanned much of the middle part of the day. For 51 overs, they shut Pakistan out, quietly but steadily building on the lead, each run seemingly taking the hosts away from a win that had looked inevitable even as early as the first day.
With a Test match strike rate of 43, a career average of 38 and a CV that boasts involvement in two partnerships in excess of 300, Watling is built for the grind of the UAE Test match cricket. Those traits came in handy for New Zealand, when he, alongside Nicholls, whose contribution was in no way any less valuable, ensured their side did not fall away after three quick wickets in the morning session had put Pakistan right on top. A session went wicketless for the first time in a Test match that has otherwise seen 30 wickets in three days, reinvigorating a contest that Pakistan had threatened to kill off at lunch.
The pair, being the last specialist batsmen for New Zealand, played like men who understood the responsibility on them without being overburdened by it. Very rarely were false shots played in the pursuit of runs, but equally, the score did not stagnate altogether. 112 runs in 51 overs might not suggest fluency, but it did provide a glimpse of the steeliness with which the pair brought New Zealand back into the game. Nicholls had reached his half-century before tea; he finished with 55 off 171 balls, while Watling amassed an equally gritty 59 off 145.
But it was another collapse that severely dented the New Zealand's hopes of coming out of this Test match with a positive result. When Yasir, who had been plugging away all afternoon with no success, extracted a bottom edge from Nicholls, the house of cards came tumbling down. Within 26 balls, 220 for 4 became 227 for 8, and it was left to the tail to get their side as close to a lead of 200 as possible. 175 was as much as they could manage, with Hasan returning to join Yasir with five wickets to his name, cleaning up Ish Sodhi and Trent Boult, and for the third time in this match taking two wickets in one over.
The morning session had begun with Kane Williamson and Jeet Raval continuing their gritty resistance from last evening, growing ever more confident at the crease. The opening salvo from Mohammad Abbas was seen off without major trouble, and New Zealand moved into the lead without losing any more wickets. But once a perfect legspinner from Yasir clipped Williamson's off stump, Pakistan surged once again. Hasan took two in one over as Ross Taylor and Raval also made their way back, and the upshot of a session that had begun with New Zealand firmly in charge ended by Pakistan re-establishing the slim advantage they have held over their opponents.
It really was a session defined by that ball, though. Yasir drifted one in on a good length around a middle-stump line to the unflappable Williamson, and as Williamson offered a defensive bat off the back foot, it looped and spun away to beat his outside edge and clip the off stump so tenderly, it took a few seconds for the bail to come off. Williamson was nonplussed, as was the on-field umpire; he needed the third umpire to ensure the batsman really had been bowled.
That appeared to change the mindset of both teams. New Zealand suddenly seemed to remember they were only 11 runs ahead of Pakistan, and Sarfraz Ahmed sensed the pressure he could place them under. Hasan came on, and just as he had on day one, produced an over that turned the game around completely. Taylor and Raval were removed within four unplayable balls of each other. Taylor was pinned in front by a fast, reverse-swinging ball, while Raval, who had been stuck on 46 since Williamson was with him at the crease, edged one to the keeper, and was denied a well-deserved half-century in the process.
Every run may end up counting, with Pakistan having established an unwelcomed recent habit of falling short of low fourth-innings chases. Six times they have been bowled out under 200 in this decade, twice in 2017 alone. It is a habit New Zealand will look to keep Pakistan shackled to, and with 139 still to get, success is not an impossibility. Even if this Test looks like it might have finally shown its hand, it has over the past three days proven to be an excellent bluffer.