Stumps Pakistan 297 and 8 for 1 (Abid 7*, Abbas 1*, Jamieson 1-1) trail New Zealand 659 for 6 decl (Williamson 237, Nicholls 157, Mitchell 102*) by 354 runs
It rained runs, much of them in boundaries, Kane Williamson's class and dropped catches on a leaden Christchurch Tuesday. All of it meant more agony for Pakistan; perhaps thoughts of the flight back home already on their minds. What's left is to see if they can put up a strong fight in the second innings. Can they take the game into a fifth day? Or will New Zealand's vaunted pace attack, who have 354 runs still to play with before their batsmen come into the picture again, bowl out the opposition quickly on the fourth day to take the No. 1 Test ranking?
New Zealand plundered runs in the dark, with rain looming; as many as 259 came after lunch in just 45.5 overs. Williamson converted his 24th Test ton into a fourth double, a magnificent 237 full of class and some major slices of luck - he was reprieved on 82, 107 and 177. Meanwhile, Henry Nicholls made 157, his seventh Test century, during the course of a record stand of 369, New Zealand's highest for the fourth wicket and best at Hagley Oval, overtaking the previous best by Steven Smith and Joe Burns. Nicholls began the Test summer not having gone past a Test fifty in 13 innings. He ended it with two big centuries, this and the career-best 174 against West Indies in Wellington, his Test berth now seemingly secure. Then in fading light, Daryl Mitchell bashed an unbeaten 102, his maiden Test ton.
Mitchell's was particularly exhilarating. It was a knock straight out of the T20 copybook - using his muscular hitting ability to pick up runs against a tired attack. He not only had to beat Pakistan's spread-out field but also his captain's declaration deadline. Williamson signalled to him at one point when he had 18 runs to get to the landmark. As Mitchell got nearer and nearer, Williamson pushed the declaration back. Finally, he got there with a tickle to the fine-leg boundary, and New Zealand declared on 659 for 6.
Left with 11 overs to survive, Shan Masood, who had a forgettable outing on the field having grassed three opportunities, ended the Test with two ducks. Having been done in by a Tim Southee toecrusher in the first, he was out nicking to the slips in the second to give Kyle Jamieson an early break. Nightwatchman Mohammad Abbas had a heart-in-the-mouth moment when he edged his first ball to the slips trying to drive, only for the ball to land short of Tim Southee. He somehow saw off the dying moments in Abid Ali's company - he survived a close review too - with Pakistan ending the day on 8 for 1, needing another 354 to avoid an innings defeat.
The highlight of the day, though, was Williamson's knock. Starting the day on 112, he went like he had on Monday, going past Donald Bradman's Test tally of 6996, bringing up 7000 Test runs in his 144th innings - quicker that Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting and AB de Villiers - and then got stuck in to the bowling. As the conditions got murkier and the bowling defensive, he worked the ball in the gaps, ran tirelessly between the wickets, and then took on the short-ball plan, with two men back, with the pull and the hook.
For much of the day, the Williamson-Nicholls partnership strolled through without being challenged. Nicholls, let off on 3 and 86, feasted on some tired bowling to bring up his seventh Test century. He traded the hard scrap, along with some luck, for flamboyance as the session wore on. Soon after raising the century, he walked down the pitch to heave Abbas over midwicket. He looked to improvise, take the bowling on, and get the scorecard moving. Not because the hundred was out of the way but because he was struggling with a calf strain that did not allow him to run too much.
Williamson should have been out on 177 as he tried to play his signature dab. However, Azhar Ali, not for the first time in the day, put down a catch at gully, off Shaheen Afridi after having reprieved Nicholls earlier in the day off Abbas. A right hand already wrapped in tape took a stinging blow as Azhar completed the dive.
Pakistan lacked a plan for large parts, but in the first hour, they seemed to have had one: the seamers attacked the stumps, something they did not do enough on Monday, and once that failed, they tried to set Williamson up for the short-ball strangle down leg. But they couldn't sustain pressure or even create a flutter of doubt. Having merely one slip fielder for the sake of it and six men back for much of the session left Williamson with no pressure to deal with.
As tea approached and Pakistan looked to cut off runs by having Zafar Gohar bowl his left-arm spin from over the wicket, Williamson brought out the reverse sweep, something Mitchell did too as he plundered quick runs. Mitchell was severe on anything short, shimmying down the pitch and using his big forearms to good effect, pulling freely in the arc between deep square and deep midwicket.
Nicholls fell to a top-edged hook for 157 to end a giant stand, giving Afridi some reward for tirelessly bounding in. BJ Watling nicked to Haris Sohail at third slip to give Afridi a second wicket. However, such opportunities were far and few. And even when Pakistan took the chances, it didn't really amount to much.
New Zealand vs Pakistan
ICC World Test Championship
New Zealand v Pakistan
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo