Pakistan’s management was consistent in its selection and tactics, and their top-order batsmen displayed a heartening stability to give their team the ideal start to the Test series against New Zealand. The hosts fielded an unchanged XI for the third successive Test, Misbah-ul-Haq won his third consecutive toss and batted again – at a venue where his team had made 570 against Australia last week – and Mohammad Hafeez and Ahmed Shehzad gave Pakistan their best opening partnership in 14 years.
While Hafeez fell four short of his first Test hundred since June 2012, Shehzad converted a watchful start into a third century in only his eighth match, and Azhar Ali, who had scored two tons in his previous Test against Australia, helped consolidate the advantage gained by a 178-run opening stand. New Zealand managed only one wicket in 90 overs, and the discipline they bowled with in the morning wavered as the sun grew higher and harsher.
The visitors had their chances, though. Shehzad was on 16, and his partnership with Hafeez was 44, when he walked down the pitch to offspinner Mark Craig and was beaten yards outside his crease. The wicketkeeper BJ Watling fumbled the take. Shortly after Hafeez, on 35, edged a legbreak from Ish Sodhi but replays found Ross Taylor had taken the catch on the half volley at first slip. And late in the day, Azhar was on 31 when he attempted a reverse-paddle and edged the ball. Watling created the opportunity by anticipating swiftly and moving to his right, but the ball thudded into his chest and fell to the ground.
Those were merely blips on a wholesome performance. Hafeez, who had only 150 runs in his last 13 innings as opener, glanced his third ball – from Trent Boult – for four and batted with composure through the first session. He left when the ball was on a tight length outside off stump, but drove and cut when offered width. A return to form for him meant Pakistan had a line-up with every batsman in the runs.
Shehzad had edged his second ball – from Southee – through the cordon for four and then slowed down drastically but never looked out of sorts. And after his reprieve, Shehzad swept Sodhi for four and drove consecutive Corey Anderson deliveries to the straight and cover boundaries. New Zealand tried five bowlers in the first session without success, and their day got worse.
Pakistan had scored 85 runs in the morning, but they racked up 50 in the first hour after lunch as both batsmen played more aggressively. Hafeez pulled Southee to bring up his half-century, and the hundred partnership was achieved in the 38th over. He pulled Jimmy Neesham as well – the short balls not getting high enough to cause discomfort on a slow pitch – and attacked Craig by stepping out and lofting and driving through cover and mid-on.
Shehzad too shed his conservative approach after lunch, and targeted Sodhi in particular, using his feet to loft the legspinner down the ground and then going back to cut and pull when the bowler pitched short. He was troubled by one googly from Sodhi but remained unfazed enough to cut the next ball – a legbreak – to the backward-point boundary.
The flurry of boundaries helped Shehzad catch up with his partner, but Hafeez steamed ahead again by sweeping Craig, and cutting Anderson for two boundaries, to move into the 90s. He was a shot away from a century when a ball from Anderson stopped on him and he popped a return catch to the bowler. New Zealand had finally snapped the opening stand in the 53rd over, but the batsman walking in was Azhar, who was fluent from the start. Pakistan went into tea having scored 109 runs in the second session.
With a new batsman at the crease, Pakistan began carefully after tea, but it wasn’t long before Shehzad inside-edged a Sodhi googly to the fine-leg boundary to move on to 97. He brought up his hundred off 221 balls. Azhar began to play freely too, cutting Boult and sweeping Sodhi for fours, and another partnership began to germinate.
Bereft of wickets, Brendon McCullum even brought himself on to bowl the 73rd over, but Azhar immediately brought up the 50-partnerhsip with Shehzad.
There were a couple of moments of uncertainty for Pakistan after the second new-ball was taken. Shehzad was squared up by Southee, but Watling was wrong-footed because he was anticipating the ball going towards leg, and Taylor at first slip was too wide to attempt the catch. Azhar then tried to hook Southee but got a top edge that just cleared Watling. McCullum bowled the final over of the day, using a ball that was only nine overs old, because his other bowlers had given it their all, and not achieved much.