Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000
Hazare Trophy (4)
BBL 2023 (1)
Asia Cup [U19] (2)
SA v IND (1)
ZIM v IRE (1)
IND v ENG (W) (1)
At Bay Oval last week, Pakistan spent 102 and 123 overs at the crease in their two innings. They barely lasted until the second new ball here in Christchurch, and yet this might just be Pakistan's most satisfying day with the bat away from home for the best part of two years.
New Zealand might have won the toss and chipped their way right down to the lower middle order as early as lunch, just as they did at Bay Oval. They may have struck with the new ball, removed the openers cheaply and effected a mini-collapse, as was the case in the first Test. And New Zealand's big-name, in-form batsmen are yet to get their go on a surface that's a bit more playful than the one in Mount Maunganui.
However, Pakistan's contentment will stem not just from the reasonably competitive position they close the day out on, but from how effectively they executed a vastly different approach to the one they took last week. There appeared to be acceptance for the somewhat radical idea that time at the crease against New Zealand's greatest-ever bowling attack - though they were without Neil Wagner here - invariably comes with a death sentence. Having come to terms with that, the visitors decided a slightly shorter life expectancy was a reasonable price to pay for more runs on the board.
Committing to that approach in theory is one thing, but actually going out and doing it? Misbah-ul-Haq's Pakistan have not developed a reputation of caution over abandon for nothing. Today, however, even when Tim Southee trapped Shan Masood in front early on - the doomed review providing an extremely brief stay of execution - Pakistan did not retreat to the comfort of their cocoons. A quicker pitch, where the ball came onto the bat much better than it did at Mount Maunganui, contributed to their scoring rate, but there was also more urgency and opportunism about Pakistan's batting.
Azhar Ali is a man whose need for runs was so exigent Pakistan took the captaincy off him while he continues that quest, and one not especially known for flamboyance. Up against a bowling attack in the form of their lives, though, Azhar resolved to keep an eye out for opportunities to keep the scoring rate ticking. It was an innings that personified modern, positive Test-match batting, with barely a false shot even as Pakistan began to push the run rate up to four an over post-lunch.
The dangerously probing seaming deliveries that hovered around off stump still received the respect they deserved, but like a boxer looking to make every moment count, Azhar got in a jab of his own every time New Zealand dropped their guard. When they went full, according to ESPNcricinfo's data, Azhar scored 17 off 20. The two full-tosses he was presented with were duly put away for fours. When the lines were straighter - on the stumps or straying down leg - he scored 40 off 60.
And even when the hosts were on the money, as they were for much of the day, he took care to play behind the wicket with soft hands, which meant the ball didn't carry to the slips, often finding a gap through which to run along into the vacant third-man area.
It wasn't just Azhar, of course, though his innings and the bold approach he brought to it was likely the difference between a sub-200 total and the 297 they ended up with. Mohammad Rizwan finds himself in the sort of purple patch that comes around once a career if you're lucky enough, so why wouldn't you look to ride your luck in it? He wasn't in the business of respecting length deliveries in the corridor outside off (20 off 19) or fuller ones on the same line (11 off 9). Granted, not all those runs came the precise way Rizwan had been intending, but having begun when Pakistan were stuttering at 83 for 4, his counter-punching knock tempered the spring in New Zealand's step after lunch.
It is time, too, to pay Rizwan his dues now. Never mind fighting off competition for the wicketkeeping gloves, the 28-year-old is at present the best batsman in the side on form. His 71-ball 61 was his fifth successive half-century, and sixth overall; all of them have come in either Australia, England or New Zealand. Moreover, each of the five half-centuries has come when his side has sorely required it, with Pakistan 120 for 5, 75 for 5, 52 for 5, 75 for 4 and now 83 for 4 when he walked in. All this, remember, from someone viewed more as a lower-order contributor than a specialist batsman.
In the middle session, when New Zealand, spearheaded by an at times unplayable Kyle Jamieson, were at their most menacing, the visitors scored 130 at nearly four-and-a-half runs an over, and lost just the one wicket in that time. Rizwan set the tone by smashing Trent Boult for 14 in an over, with an additional four leg byes adding to the left-arm quick's frustrations. When Azhar finally nicked off to Matt Henry - Wagner's replacement bowled well enough to deserve more than the one scalp - he was seven runs from a hundred in the 63rd over of the innings. At Bay Oval, Pakistan's team score in the first innings at the same stage was 89 for 6.
For a Test side further along in its development than Pakistan, adapting from an approach that didn't work might simply be seen as routine tinkering. But in Pakistan, such shifts can be seismic.
New Zealand perhaps still went in at stumps slightly the happier side, but for the tragics who stayed up through the night in Pakistan fearing another 20th-century tribute act, the outbreak of progressive modernity will have been as welcome as it was unexpected.