PAKISTAN VS NEW ZEALAND IN UAE, 2018
Cricbuzz Staff •
Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls are in the middle of an unbeaten 212-run stand for the fifth wicket. © AFP
Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls took New Zealand’s lead to 198 – as they ended the fourth day on 272 for 4 – with the series finale set up beautifully in Abu Dhabi on Thursday (December 6). In the last five chases at the venue, four have ended in losses. Add to the fact that Pakistan botched up the 176-run chase in the first Test at the same venue and the hosts seem to be in a lot of trouble.
Williamson and Nicholls scored unbeaten 212 for the fifth wicket to put New Zealand on course for a series win in Asia since 1984. Make no mistake, the ball misbehaved at times, the Pakistan spinners found plenty of turn to trouble the duo but it was the application from the two that stood out. When New Zealand started the day trailing by 48, Pakistan would have hoped to chase anything below 100. But the partnership not only changed the course of the game, putting the visitors as front-runners to seal the contest, it also changed the narrative. By the time the stumps were drawn, New Zealand were more comfortable with Sarfraz Ahmed & Co. sweating over the missed opportunities during the day.
Nicholls survived a few close calls in the first session when Pakistan mounted pressure to get on top. When things got off to a patchy start, it seemed the Pakistan spinners will spin the visitors out of the contest in no time. William Somerville became Yasir’s 200 Test victim as the legspinner became the fastest to 200 Test wickets – breaking an 82-year-old record – as he got to the landmark in 33 Tests. Ross Taylor flourished for a while with his attacking approach before one poor stroke left the team reeling at 60 for 4.
New Zealand went to lunch with a slender lead of 38 but not before Nicholls survived a few nervy moments. Pakistan decided against reviewing a plumb lbw decision against the left-hander and Nicholls later had a decision reversed after he was trapped in front by Yasir. The slowness of the track too didn’t help Pakistan. Sarfraz continuously egged his spinners to bowl quicker but while Yasir extracted prodigious turn, Bilal Asif failed to create any sort of impact.
Williamson reached his 19th Test ton – the first in the series by a New Zealand batsman – as he punched Hasan Ali for a boundary. New Zealand’s lead was just 114 then and he refused to slow down. Nicholls raised his half-century as the stand swelled past 150. Pakistan’s decision to keep attacking with spinners should be questioned but it was perhaps Hasan’s niggle that kept them tied. However, with Shaheen bowling just 16 overs, Sarfraz missed the trick as both batsmen got used to the spinners. While Nicholls used the reverse sweep to good effect, Williamson relied on his backfoot play to open up the off side throughout the day to milk the spinners.
As the lead swelled, the shoulders started to drop and the anxious energies started to rise. Pakistan, for most parts of the last two sessions, it seemed had walked out without a plan. In the last session, they refused to believe they stood a chance. Sarfraz nudged the bowlers, gave them ideas, got furious more often than not when things went wrong but eventually failed to earn a wicket. The fact that Williamson was dropped twice – both times by Yasir – didn’t do much to sooth Sarfraz’s qualms either. They will enter the final day with the aim of making New Zealand bat for as long as possible. But they’ll be well aware that there’s no room for panic if they want to maintain series parity.
Brief scores: New Zealand 274 & 272/4 (Kane Williamson 139*, Henry Nicholls 90*) lead Pakistan 348 (Azhar Ali 134, Asad Shafiq 104; William Somerville 4-75) by 198 runs.