For two days New Zealand’s bowlers had struggled to create chances as Pakistan amassed their match-defining total, but as soon as they batted, the balance between bat and ball shifted dramatically. The home side were a constant threat, and the New Zealand batsmen did not have the softness of technique to survive long periods in conditions that demanded patience. They conceded a first-innings lead of 304.
Tom Latham was the exception, and the only reason New Zealand got as far as they did, making his maiden Test hundred. The rest of the top-order batsmen struggled against the relentless accuracy of Rahat Ali and the dangers created by Pakistan’s spinners operating with up to five catchers around the bat. Rahat was the pick, though, taking pivotal wickets to finish the day with figures of 17-10-22-4.
Pakistan had six overs to bat before stumps and were without regular opener Ahmed Shehzad, who was ruled out of the series with a minor skull fracture. Mohammad Hafeez and Azhar Ali were unbeaten, and had no major scares, unlike New Zealand.
The visitors had decided to open with Brendon McCullum and Latham, and they added 33 for the first wicket – New Zealand’s best first-wicket partnership for 12 innings. It was fraught with uncertainty, though. In the second over of the day, McCullum survived Imran Khan’s lbw appeal after the not-out decision was found to be umpire’s call on review. In the third, from Zulfiqar Babar, Latham played the ball firmly to short leg, where Azhar Ali could not catch it.
Misbah-ul-Haq crowded the bat with catchers. There were usually four for Babar, sometimes more. McCullum fell to slip, as he pushed with hard hands and Younis Khan stooped to take a low catch.
While Babar was the most threatening in the morning, he was supported by Rahat, who finished the first session with sensational figures of 8-7-1-1. Rahat’s wicket-to-wicket line and tight length made him impossible to score off for the cautious New Zealand batsmen – the only run he conceded was via a no-ball.
In his fifth over Rahat dismissed New Zealand’s best batsman with a yorker. Kane Williamson jammed his bat down, but was too late in turning around to prevent the ball from trickling on to his stumps. Ross Taylor was returning from a calf injury but his comeback innings lasted only six balls before he edged Babar to gully. New Zealand were 47 for 3.
Watching from the other end was Latham, who also had nervy moments. He shouldered arms to Rahat but survived the lbw appeal because it was marginally high, and towards the end of the first session an edge bounced off the wicketkeeper’s glove and fell wide of the diving fielder at slip. Latham attacked when he could, though, sweeping Babar for consecutive fours despite there being three close catchers on the leg side.
New Zealand hobbled to 81 for 3 at lunch, but after the break Latham and Corey Anderson resumed aggressively. Anderson was harsh on the legspinner Yasir Shah, whose shorter lengths were swept and cut repeatedly to the boundary. He attacked Hafeez too, sweeping and lofting straight. The fifty partnership came in quick time.
Misbah brought back Rahat to quiet the scoring and Anderson edged his first ball between slips and gully, and then swatted the next through midwicket. Those were the first runs Rahat had conceded off the bat all day. Soon after, though, Anderson attempted to force Rahat through the offside and played on to his stumps. His fellow allrounder Neesham followed quickly, stumped off Hafeez while attempting to heave down the ground.
While the aggression of the allrounders did not look like it would last, Latham played with an assuredness that made longevity seem more likely. He was comfortable driving and pulling, and played the spinners late and with soft hands to reduce the threat of the prowling close catchers. When he swept, he planted his front foot well outside the line of off stump to eliminate the lbw.
Latham resumed fluently after tea, pulling Imran to the midwicket boundary and then driving Babar down the ground to raise his first Test hundred. Misbah brought back his go-to man, and Rahat did the job with another yorker. Latham reviewed the lbw decision but replays upheld the decision, ending the sixth-wicket stand of 65 on 215.
The innings seemed headed for a speedy finish when Mark Craig and Tim Southee fell in quick succession, but Ish Sodhi added 43 runs with Watling before being bowled by Yasir. Babar ended Watling’s innings with a superb set-up – he spun two balls sharply away from the right-hander before slipping in the arm-ball to nail him lbw on the sweep. Pakistan chose not to enforce the follow-on, and New Zealand could expect to be batting for survival not long into the fourth day.