Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
ZIM v WI (1)
WI 4-Day (2)
Super Smash (2)
Super Smash (W) (1)
New Zealand 222 for 3 (Williamson 94*, Nicholls 42*, Taylor 70, Afridi 3-55) vs Pakistan
An unhurried unbeaten 94 from Kane Williamson steered New Zealand through a testing opening day at Mount Maunganui, helping them end it only three down despite a number of testing spells from Pakistan. The visitors could have found more reward for their efforts with a bit more luck and better catching, but the experience and skill of Williamson, Ross Taylor and Henry Nicholls eventually ensured New Zealand had their noses ahead at stumps.
Shaheen Afridi was Pakistan's only wicket-taker - the left-armer dismissed both openers in his first spell, then broke a 120-run third-wicket stand between Taylor and Williamson, and could have had another wicket with the second new ball late in the day, when he found Williamson's edge only for Haris Sohail to put down a low chance at first slip. Williamson was on 86 then.
Williamson had survived another dropped catch shortly before lunch when he was on 18, when Naseem Shah had straightened one from just short of a length to find his edge. This one was even harder, with Shan Masood having to dive to his left for a one-handed chance inches from the turf.
Both dropped chances, in a way, reflected Williamson's mastery at the crease, the softest hands in world cricket ensuring the edges didn't carry to a more comfortable height. There were plenty of other, more straightforward manifestations of Williamson's skill and technique, of course - those late defensive shots off both feet that are more about ball hitting bat than bat hitting ball, the leaves outside off stump displaying immaculate judgment of length as much as line, the precise weight transfer into checked drives.
And for much of the day, he needed to be at his best, because some of Pakistan's bowling was of the highest quality. Afridi tested both edges from his left-arm-over angle, creating constant doubt in the batsmen's minds as to whether the ball would swing against that angle or not. Mohammad Abbas was almost hypnotically accurate, his stock line more middle-and-off than off-stump, making batsmen play ball after ball while getting it to nibble both ways. There was discipline from Faheem Ashraf too, in his early spells, and hostility and seam movement from Naseem Shah after a wayward first spell.
But there were missed chances - the simplest of them a drop at fine leg from Mohammad Abbas when Naseem induced Nicholls, who was batting on 6, to hook in the air - as well as phases where Pakistan let the game drift.
Most crucial was the period of 20 overs before Pakistan took the second new ball, during which time Williamson and Nicholls made 68 runs. There wasn't a whole lot of outright bad bowling, but neither Afridi nor Abbas bowled during this phase, and the other bowlers didn't quite match their levels of skill or intensity. The fields were perhaps overly defensive too, particularly when Yasir Shah bowled, and the legspinner never settled into a rhythm against a right-left combination that was taking frequent singles.
New Zealand also made every effort to unsettle Yasir. Taylor had shown the first glimpse of this game-plan in the last half-hour before tea, when he paddle-swept and slog-swept him for two fours and a six in the space of two overs, and Nicholls - who used the sweep often and well - and Williamson - who used his feet to get out of the crease at every opportunity - kept at it.
In all, Yasir conceded 56 runs in 16 overs to end the day as Pakistan's most expensive bowler. Naseem, who was erratic in his first three-over spell and later possibly over-used the short ball, conceded 51 in 15 overs.
There was much to admire in Pakistan's bowling otherwise, though, particularly in the first two sessions.
The most recent visitors to these shores, West Indies, had wasted the new ball in favourable conditions in their first Test in Hamilton, bowling too short and not making the top order play enough. Pakistan's opening bowlers didn't repeat that mistake, and Afridi was on target straightaway. His first ball asked Tom Latham those two most pressing questions - come forward or go back, and play or leave - and hesitant responses to both led to an outside edge running away between third slip and gully. Latham didn't survive a similar examination two balls later, however, edging straight to third slip.
Afridi followed this up in the 11th over with the wicket of Tom Blundell, who failed to get his weight fully forward into a drive, and edged low to third slip.
Afridi and Abbas were back in tandem after lunch, and Taylor and Williamson survived another searching examination. Afridi produced a rare loose drive from Williamson, away from his body, and the ball streaked away past gully. Abbas, at the stumps nearly every ball while hardly ever straying too straight, found Taylor's edge with a full ball that swung wickedly late, away from off stump, and once again the ball ran away through the cordon.
While Williamson was content to stay in his bubble and get his runs when they came, Taylor was more opportunistic, square-cutting balls that would have been too close to off stump for other batsmen, and showing a greater preparedness to drive at full balls that weren't quite half-volleys.
Taylor was on 66 to Williamson's 49 at tea, but Afridi dismissed him soon after the break, setting him up beautifully. First he bowled a series of full balls slanting away from the right-hander, fairly wide of off stump, then he sent down a bouncer that Taylor ducked under. Having pushed him back in this manner, Afridi followed up with a perfect length ball hugging a tight channel around off stump. Taylor played for the possibility of inswing, and the ball seamed away instead, and kicked up steeply to kiss the shoulder of the bat through to the keeper.
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|Shaheen Shah Afridi||not out||8||30|
|Extras||(b 16, lb 7, nb 8, w 2)|
|Total||271(10 wkts; 123.3 ovs)|
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