Lunch New Zealand 400 for 3 (Williamson 153*, Nicholls 138*) lead Pakistan 297 (Azhar 93, Jamieson 5-69) by 103 runs
Hello, it’s lunch on day three. New Zealand are in a position from where they can win by batting just once in the game. If you’re a Pakistan fan, you need to know two things.
First the good news: Pakistan seemed to have a bowling plan, at least for the first hour. Now for the bad news: they have no wickets to show; they also grassed a chance in the gully to reprieve Henry Nicholls on 92.
He remained unbeaten on 129, his seventh Test century and his second this summer, to go with the 174 he made against West Indies in Wellington. Kane Williamson calmly carried on like only he can, playing pristine on-drives for fun, killing them softly with his delicate little touch, building on his 24th Test century to leave him 153 not out. New Zealand’s lead is an ominous 103 with seven wickets still in the shed.
In overcast conditions with a second new ball in hand, these weren’t the kind of returns Pakistan would’ve hoped for. It was as if their worst nightmare was playing out in broad daylight.
Once Nicholls got to the century with a crunching cover drive, he batted like a batsman possessed: looking to improvise, take the bowling on and get the scorecard moving. Not because the hundred was out of the way; because he was struggling with a calf strain that didn’t allow him to run too much.
So who dropped the chance? Well, Azhar Ali grassed it as Nicholls escaped trying to flay a cut, only to be cramped for room, off Mohammad Abbas. This was his third reprieve, which came early in the session where Pakistan started with three maiden overs. The new-ball bowlers Abbas and Shaheen Afridi looked to bowl full and attack the stumps, something they didn’t do enough of in the first hour yesterday.
Once that plan didn’t work, Pakistan looked to set up a leg-side trap for Williamson, who by the way was already batting past a century. Afridi went around the wicket to try and strangle him. At least they weren’t afraid to try this. He ended up conceding eight byes, and even manufactured a window of an opportunity that flew wide of leg slip.
Williamson carried on calmly like he did on Monday, going past Sir Donald Bradman’s Test runs tally, bringing up 7000 Test runs in his 144th innings – that’s quicker that Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting and AB de Villiers. Nicholls, meanwhile, joined in the fun by walking across to play a delightful pick-up whip for six over deep square. They weren’t just having fun, they were rubbing salt into Pakistan’s wounds.
Incredibly, Nicholls was similarly let off early during the course of his 174 earlier in the summer. Prior to that knock, he went 13 innings without a Test half-century. He also missed the start of the first-class summer in New Zealand with a similar calf strain. His place in the side was under the scanner. He was spoken to by the selectors. He needed runs, and he has made his chances count.
Nicholls traded the hard scrap, along with some luck, for some flamboyance as the session wore on. After drinks, he just stamped his authority over the bowling. Cutting, pulling, using the pace to glide the ball, cruising comfortably. His partnership of 329 with Williamson is the highest at this venue, beating Steven Smith and Joe Burns’ record. It’s also the highest fourth-wicket stand for New Zealand against any opponents.
Towards the end of the session, a second chance went down – albeit a tough one on the followthrough for Naseem Shah. Nicholls, looking to flat bat him over the bowler’s head, was cramped for room and got it high on the bat. Naseem put his hand out to stop, but couldn’t quite grab it on the second attempt.
Hands on head, hands in pockets, shoulders dropping – it was the kind of body language you see from a defeated team. Only a miracle, you’d think, can revive Pakistan’s flagging hopes from here on.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.