Williamson leads fightback
Black Caps skipper gets support from Nicholls as visitors have hope of series win
Apivotal partnership between Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls has given New Zealand hope of a famous away test series victory over Pakistan.
Before tea on day four, the Black Caps had reached 152-4 in their second innings, leading by 78 runs. Having started the day at 26-2, the early wickets of nightwatchman Will Somerville and Ross Taylor had reduced their hopes of victory, leaving a serious fightback required by Williamson and Nicholls. Under immense pressure, they managed to do just that. Williamson was in control once again, offering few chances as he reached 50 for the 100th time in all international formats, before moving through to 80 not out. He had added an unbeaten 92 with Nicholls, who was on 35 after overcoming a shaky start.
Nicholls survived two reviews before he had reached double figures, with Pakistan using up all of their reviews out of desperation to break the partnership. Understandably so, as it was an essential combination — after Nicholls, BJ Watling was the Black Caps’ only specialist batsman remaining, so one breakthrough could have started a collapse and given Pakistan a small total to chase in the fourth innings.
A lead of at least 150 would put Pakistan under pressure, but more realistically, an advantage of 200-250 would be needed for the visitors to have a chance of repeating their first test heroics, and claiming a first away test series win over Pakistan in 49 years. Of course, a lead of 250 could still be attainable, even given Pakistan’s dismal recent record at chasing targets. There would be plenty of pressure on the New Zealand spinners, and it would take just one good partnership to put Pakistan back on top.
However, the Black Caps at least have a chance, something that looked unlikely after losing Somerville and Taylor in the first session. Yasir Shah was again heavily
involved, with the Pakistan
legspinner becoming the fastest player to 200 test wickets when he claimed the scalp of Somerville. Somerville was trapped lbw for four, giving Shah his 200th wicket in just 33 matches — breaking the 82-year-old record held by New Zealand-born Australian legspinner Clarrie Grimmett.
That brought Taylor to the wicket, and he never looked like he was going to stay around for long. Aggressive batting saw him reach 22 from 14 balls, including a pull shot for four from Shaheen Afridi.
However, he was unwittingly lured into Pakistan’s trap, pulling at another short ball from Afridi and picking out Bilal Asif on the square leg boundary. It drew a laugh from Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur, who knew the plan had worked to perfection.
Four wickets down while still trailing, the Black Caps were all of a sudden in dire straits, having squandered the good work their bowlers had accomplished to get them back into a position of hope.
From 286-3, Pakistan had earlier been bowled out for 348 as spinners Ajaz Patel (2-100) and Somerville (4-75) ripped through the tail, and the Black Caps had renewed hope. The dismissals of openers Tom Latham and Jeet Raval significantly dimmed those hopes before stumps, and Pakistan continued to strike on day four — putting the Black Caps firmly on the ropes. However, Williamson and Nicholls fought back, and now this test — and the series — is anybody’s game.
The Black Caps are once again relying on Kane Williamson.