It is a sleepy morning. Spectators lay sprawled on Seddon Park's steep banks in a spatter beneath steel-grey clouds trimmed by wisps of sky. The match has ebbed and flowed, and ebbed and ebbed for four days. There is hope that, if we are lucky, fans will get their payoff. But for now Test cricket is snoozing.
The first over from Neil Wagner is an unremarkable maiden. The second over yields one run, and then another maiden follows. Eventually Azhar Ali gets off the mark off the 22nd ball he faces, but the day is yet to acquire a pulse. A queue has collected near the coffee caravan. It is almost 11am, but it still seems too early for a beer. On the southwest bank, a couple is canoodling.
About fifteen overs in, Wagner rubs two pads of a defibrillator together and draws the first sparks of life - what else but with short-pitched bowling? Over the past year the short ball hasn't so much been Wagner's go-to delivery, it has seemed like his sole calling in life, the entire reason he exists. If someone were to go back in time and outlaw the bouncer, it is possible Wagner would disappear into thin air Marty McFly style, leaving blanks in the scorecards of games he has played in, as well as gaps in team photographs.
One ball hits Sami Aslam on the ear-guard on his helmet. Another one, at Azhar's ribs, takes the shoulder of the bat and lands just out of short-leg's reach. But the unremarkable maidens soon return to becalm the Test, and the only moments of interest before lunch are Kane Williamson's strange referrals. On one occasion, after Azhar sought to sway out of the way of a short ball, Williamson reviews the mildest caught-behind appeal. Replays show there is a Colin de Grandhomme-sized space between Azhar's bat and the trajectory of the ball. Shortly before the break, when de Grandhomme himself raps Aslam flush on the pad in front of off stump, Williamson wrings his hands for two seconds too long, and a decision that would have been overturned goes unreviewed. It is a horror DRS session; the worst for a Test captain since… well… whenever Angelo Mathews last played.
Wagner and his rib-cage tickling defibrillator are back after lunch, but the Test will still not be roused. In the morning session, the broadcasters had tried to talk life into the chase, dwelling on the glorious the possibility of a Pakistan victory, flashing scorecards from the manic pursuit of 302 in Sharjah, and the monumental chase of 377 in Pallekele. When Azhar and Aslam score just 31 from the 15 overs after lunch, these scorecards fail to appear. Aslam's fifty - off 188 balls - is the slowest for a Pakistan opener in 23 years. The only thing slower in this Test has been the speed at which his hands came together when attempting a catch at slip.
Then suddenly, a heartbeat. Aslam has hit two fours off Henry. Azhar's back-lift has a fresh energy to it, and there's a birr in his feet. He aims an expansive drive through cover off Mitchell Santner and plays on, irking himself and puzzling Santner as to how a ball that turned away could take the inside edge. Something other than a draw now seems possible. The couple on the hill have stopped canoodling. The coffee-getting crowd is thinner.
Still, at tea Pakistan are only one wicket down, so they are surely safe from losing. The question is, can they win? But wait, there is Babar Azam attempting to play virtually the same shot as Azhar had tried, off the exact bowler, and somehow, he has played on as well. What seems clear is that Santner has not planned it. It would make sense if batsmen were getting stumped, or caught at slip. "But this?" he asks his team-mates. Is it the drift that is doing it? Is it the dip?
After Azam's dismissal, Sarfraz Ahmed finds himself promoted to No. 4, and now it is quite clearly Pakistan who are trying to shoot adrenaline into the Test match. He flits around the crease and chops to off, but the big shots aren't connecting. He and Aslam heave and slash, but every time they look up from a shot, a fielder has the ball in hand, elbow cocked. So well protected are these boundaries, some American voters may soon start demanding New Zealand cricketers, instead of a border wall.
The Test match is in the mood now, and the sucker punches come quickly. Aslam departs, slogging unselfishly. Sarfraz runs himself out. When the great Younis Khan, he of 201 innings and 39 full years, pads up to a stump-bound delivery, you know the Test has truly awoken. It spurned the efforts of Wagner, and the broadcasters and Pakistan's middle order were ignored. But now, in its own time, the Test has arisen and it's roaring.
The last four wickets are a blur. Sohail Khan scoops a ball to cover. Mohammaad Amir edges one in front of his chest. The Test has the crowd in its unshakeable grip now; the batsmen are finding their edges drawn to the ball, the fielders are stopping singles almost involuntarily, the cricketers have all become the game's marionettes. Off a surface that was assumed to have gone barren, balls are leaping off lengths, jiving off unseen cracks. Two wickets fall in the space of three balls. Soon it becomes three off six. To Wagner goes the final reward, sparking stadium-wide elation - even the coffee vendors must by now be on the hill.
What else but Test cricket to take a foregone conclusion so gruffly by the collar? What else but Tests to make believers out of us all, while leaving everybody in such disbelief? It was Pakistan it chose to sock today - poor Pakistan, battling without their captain, defending a two-year series record, trying bravely, though briefly, for that difficult last-day win.
New Zealand it left in happy shock.