Dubai: If the first Test match between Pakistan and New Zealand had been hailed as a good advertisement for Test cricket, the action on the opening day of the second one here left one asking for more.
Azhar Ali, Pakistan’s man for all seasons, held his own with a characteristically dour innings of 81 along with an able partner in Harris Sohail (81 batting) before the Kiwis struck back with two quick wickets in the last session on Saturday.
The crawl of Pakistan batsmen with a run-rate of 2.3 during the day, certainly with the meltdown at Abu Dhabi weighing on their minds, was still inexplicable after they weathered the initial storm.
Coming together after the early loss of both their openers with only 25 runs on the board, former skipper Ali and Sohail blunted the Kiwi attack to stich together a 126-run partnership but they could have tightened the screws further.
Azhar, who reached his half-century off 100 deliveries when he stepped out and took his bottom hand for a cover drive off Trent Boult — was unlucky to miss out on what could have been a first century for him this season when he was run out after his 186-ball vigil at the wicket.
Sohail fared no better, with his half-century coming off 177 deliveries and 226 minutes.
At stumps, Pakistan were 207 for four with the job of building a good first innings total only half done.
“Getting run out is a crime, but such things are a part of the game,” Azhar said. “We are still in a good position and should be looking at around 300 as a first-innings total.”
Ajaz Patel, the bearded left-arm spinner who made a sensational debut in the first Test for New Zealand, failed to create much impression on either Azhar or Sohail while leg spinner Ish Sodhi — who was introduced much later in the day in attack — also did not fare any better. In one of his rare moments of aggression, Azhar had stepped out to lift Patel over long off for the only six of his innings.
Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmad decided to take strike first after winning the toss — almost a no-brainer as the idea was to avoid batting on the fourth innings.
The two openers — Mohammad Hafeez and Imam ul-Haq showed the right intent by keeping their heads down against some tight bowling from Boult and Colin de Grandhomme but not for long.
The Zimbabwe-born De Grandhomme, better known as an all-rounder plying his trade in the T20 franchise leagues around the world, helped the visitors grab the initiative early on. A skiddy customer, he persisted with a probing line outside the off stump and was eventually rewarded after having a shaky Hafeez dropped at third slip by Tom Latham.
He had Hafeez almost squared up to an off-cutter and Latham made amends this time, picking it up low on his left as the former departed for only nine runs. Imam-ul-Haq, who leant into a fine cover drive early on to De Grandhomme, was dismissed soon after — edging to Latham at slips again without getting his feet to the line of the ball.
Seeing his new ball bowlers probing the Pakistan top order under relatively cooler conditions, New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson persisted with them and brought on spin in the shape of Patel only in the 21st over. De Grandhomme’s first spell of 8-3-14-2 was the best occasion when bowlers held their sway on the proceedings.
The 100-run partnership between Azhar and Sohail came off an yawning 308 deliveries, with both retreating to a shell in the second session when batting became easier. One has to wait until Sunday to find out if Pakistan have to pay a price for it.
Pakistan 1st innings
I Ul-Haq c Latham b De Grandhomme 9
M Hafeez c Latham b De Grandhomme 9
A Ali Run Out (Sub) 81
H Sohail Not Out 81
A Shafiq c Wagner b Patel 12
B Azam Not Out 14
Extras (1nb) 1
Total 207-4 (90.0 overs)
Fall of Wickets: 1-18 Hafeez, 2-25 ul-Haq, 3-151 Ali, 4-174 Shafiq To Bat: Ahmed, Asif, Shah, Ali, Abbas
Bowling: Trent Boult 18-5-50-0, Colin de Grandhomme 19-7-31-2, Neil Wagner 22-7-44-0, Ajaz Patel 19-3-60-1, Ish Sodhi 12-0-22-0