Tue, 23 Jul 2019

Kane Williamson, Henry Nicholls steady after rocky start

06 Dec 2018, 18:42 GMT+10

3:00 AM ET

Lunch New Zealand 112 for 4 (Williamson 55*, Nicholls 20*, Shaheen 2-35) and 274 (Williamson 89, Watling 77*, Bilal 5-65) lead Pakistan 348 (Azhar 134, Shafiq 104, Somerville 4-75) by 38 runs

Kane Williamson remains vital to New Zealand's hopes of posting a total to challenge Pakistan in the fourth innings. An unbeaten half-century in a morning session that oozed class from the visiting captain was the only saving grace for his side while Pakistan swarmed all around his team-mates. William Somerville was made short work of by Yasir Shah, who finally broke Clarrie Grimmett's record to reach 200 wickets in just 33 Tests, before Shaheen Afridi had Ross Taylor caught off the pull. Henry Nicholls is locked in a battle with Yasir he could have lost on more than one occasion, and indeed would have had Pakistan reviewed more judiciously. The upshot, however, is New Zealand are 38 runs ahead, with six wickets still in hand.

Once more, it was Yasir's spell that engrossed viewers in, the legspinner finding turn that Ajaz Patel and Somerville had struggled to generate. Ironically, then, it was the straighter one which got him the anticipated 200th wicket, as Somerville went back to a ball that skidded on. The record was always assured, but Yasir's joy was palpable. He looked up to the sky, he prostrated on the ground, and then, he got back to work.

The most curious passage of play came while Taylor was at the crease, entertaining and puzzling in equal measure. His dash to get off the strike against Yasir was understandable - no batsman has fallen victim to Yasir more often, but he attacked Shaheen at the other end the way a pinch-hitter might. On a day when a Williamson-Taylor partnership might have caused the greatest damage to Pakistan, New Zealand's most prolific scorer was on a devil-may-care mission for a cameo instead. It never amounted to more than that, though, with a well-laid plan by Pakistan seeing him find the deep-square-leg fielder, for a 14-ball 22.

That was all the success Pakistan enjoyed, though Nicholls was put through a baptism of fire. It seemed certain he had edged one to Sarfraz and Pakistan reviewed, but UltraEdge showed otherwise. Shortly after, a huge appeal off Yasir was turned down; the ball tracking showed a review would have sent him back. Subsequently, another appeal was upheld, but a review from the batsman allowed him a reprieve. It was a maddening game of cat-and-mouse, and despite all the odds, Nicholls seems to be winning it for now. He has been part of an unbeaten 52-run partnership with Williamson now, and that is the only statistic that will, and should, matter to him.

Williamson was a picture of calm at the other end, using his feet exquisitely against Yasir. The flick through midwicket was an especially effective run-scoring option, one the New Zealand captain employed whenever Yasir got too full and too straight. Off the fast bowlers, particularly Hasan Ali, Williamson found some joy through with boundaries either side square of the wicket. He seems to be batting on a different surface altogether, and if he can continue to do that, he could walk away with a different result to what has seemed obvious for the best part of three days.

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