Lunch New Zealand 431 and 98 for 0 (Blundell 59*, Latham 36*) lead Pakistan 239 by 290 runs
Tom Blundell and Tom Latham stretched New Zealand’s lead to 290 during a wicketless first session on day four, leaving New Zealand with the question of when to declare and with what sort of lead. While they will be pleased with their openers’ second-innings displays, they will also be a little concerned over how little help the Bay Oval surface offered the Pakistan bowlers, who looked tidy but far from penetrative.
This pitch has so far played like the typical New Zealand strip over the last six years or so: a green seamer that has flattened out progressively with little sign of deterioration.
Mohammad Abbas looked the most threatening of Pakistan’s bowlers during his new-ball spell, testing the openers’ judgment with tight lines around off stump, and just a hint of seam movement. Slanting the ball across Tom Latham, he produced the only passage of play when ball dominated bat, finding the left-hander’s edge three times in two overs only for the ball to fall short of the slips cordon each time.
There was only one other real moment of concern thereafter, when Faheem Ashraf got one to scoot through at ankle height and sneak under a drive from Blundell, missing off stump by a matter of inches. Uncertain bounce has been the most significant threat to batsmen on this pitch since the early seam movement has faded away, and Kyle Jamieson and Neil Wagner will be especially keen to exploit it.
Otherwise it was smooth sailing for the openers, with Blundell making an impressive comeback into the runs after scores of 14, 14 and 5 in his first three Test innings of the summer. He seemed to get into better positions than during the first innings, with a more pronounced back-and-across trigger helping him break his inertia and get his feet moving.
He took a little time settling, with the lack of pace off the pitch causing him to mistime a few of his drives, but after the drinks break he flowed smoothly, looking especially strong on the pull and the cut, and reached his fifty off 87 balls.
Latham only hit two fours through the session – and one came off the edge – but grew increasingly assured the longer he stayed at the crease. He used the sweep efficiently as always, with Yasir Shah getting little of the sharp turn or bounce that he extracted during the first innings. While that might concern Pakistan on the one hand, it might reassure them on the other, given the amount of time their batsmen will likely have to spend in the middle to get anything out of this contest.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.