Abu Dhabi: Skipper Kane Williamson led from the front with a fighting 89 and was involved in a crucial 104-run partnership with Bradley-John Watling as New Zealand finished first day of the series-deciding final Test against Pakistan at 229 for seven in 90 overs at the Shaikh Zayed Stadium on Monday.
At stumps, Watling was holding fort on a stubborn, unbeaten 42 off 180 deliveries and debutant Will Somerville on 17.
The Kiwis will be pleased with the showing as they had scored just 153 in the first innings of the first Test here, which they won by a dramatic four runs.
Williamson won the crucial toss and also took the onus on himself to resurrect the innings after Yasir Shah again proved to be the tormentor with three quick wickets before lunch. The skipper may not be flashy but his counter-strategy and ability to adapt to any condition has enhanced his reputation tremendously over the years.
The wicket is hard to bat on, and is going to get harder as it wears off, making a score of 250 plus look awesome.
He always has time to connect deliveries outside off better, create angles for leg-side play and more importantly, he is ready to grind it out. The pillar of the team once again stood tall and did the bulk of scoring to put Kiwis in a position of strength on a wicket which opener Jeet Raval, who scored 45, has rated as hard to bat on.
“It was a good toss to win and as we saw the wicket is harder to bat on. From our judgement, it’s going to get harder and harder. I think we got a decent score in the first innings and add a few more tomorrow morning and then put Pakistan under pressure in their first innings,” said Raval, who felt that any score around 250-plus will be awesome.
“I think the boys did a fantastic job today, and hopefully BJ (Watling) and Somerville, on his debut, can carry on the good work when they resume their innings tomorrow morning.
“It’s a pretty uneven bounce and few balls are keeping low. Some are bouncing a bit more than expected. As the game goes on, it’s going to be more variable and hopefully that works to our advantage, especially, if we have to bowl last on this wicket,” added Raval.
It didn’t take long for skipper Sarfraz Ahmed to look towards his trumpcard Yasir to break New Zealand’s defiance. The spin wizard was kept at bay in his first six overs but a breakthrough was enough for the leggie to send the New Zealanders into a spiral. Yasir got Raval out leg before and then bowled Ross Taylor with a delivery that stayed low. Though Henry Nicholls survived the hat-trick ball from Yasir, three overs later, he dragged one on to his stumps and New Zealand went into lunch at 73 for four.
The three wickets in one session put Yasir just two short of 200 and he is now in line to become the fastest man to do so.
Williamson and Watling later restored normalcy and Kiwis went into tea at 145 for four in 60 overs with Williamson on an unbeaten 71 and Watling on 14.
The skipper was in line for a ton and would have been hugely disappointed to lose his wicket while on 89. Hasan Ali got one to reverse-swing and Williamson trying to flick it away found Asad Shafiq at short mid-wicket. Bilal’s deliveries then started to turn viciously and Colin de Grandhomme and Tim Southee both were found wanting and New Zealand slipped to 209 for seven.
Bilal later contradicted his rival Raval’s assessment, saying the wicket was still good for batting. “The wicket is not that helpful and we got wickets because of our efforts. Otherwise, this wicket is better than the last two Test wickets. We want to get them out as early as possible and the match will depend on our first innings total,” said Bilal.