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Azhar Ali anchors Pakistan in reply to New Zealand’s 274

Azhar Ali works the ball through midwicket © AFP

Stumps Pakistan 139 for 3 (Azhar 62*, Shafiq 26*, Boult 2-39) trail New Zealand 274 (Williamson 89, Watling 77*, Bilal 5-65, Yasir 3-75) by 135 runs

Progress was so slow it was barely progress at times, but Pakistan showed New Zealand they could gut out a first-innings total, too. After a brisk start pursuing New Zealand’s 274, Azhar Ali and Haris Sohail, and then Azhar and Asad Shafiq, toiled for the last 49 overs of the day, adding just 78 runs to the tally during that period. However, with only three wickets lost and trailing by 135, Sarfraz Ahmed may feel his side is slightly ahead two days into this deciding Test match in Abu Dhabi.

Following on his valiant, if ultimately heartbreaking, half-century at this venue in the first Test and an 81 in Dubai, Azhar looks to be recovering from the loss of form that had dogged him since the retirements of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. With 38 runs away from three figures, he will hope he can register his first international hundred since that pair called it quits, not just for his own peace of mind, but also because it is pivotal to Pakistan eking out a first-innings lead.

Shafiq, too, needs to look beyond the pretty 40s he is more accustomed to making, and consider partnering Azhar for the long haul. He has worked hard for the 26 he has put on, coming off 87 balls, but with him, the danger of a soft dismissal is never far. He should need no reminding it was the manner of his dismissal after a partnership with Azhar that set the wheels in motion for a painful defeat in the first Test.

Pakistan were dented early on with the removal of both out-of-form openers, but as has been the case all series, the middle order was there to bail them out. Azhar and Haris hung tight to help Pakistan out of a particularly sticky situation at 17 for 2, putting on 68 runs for the third wicket. Trent Boult and Tim Southee had combined for both scalps, with the wickets nearly mirror images of each other, both left and right handers edging to the slips off Boult, allowing Southee to take sharp, low catches.

Boult had removed Mohammad Hafeez off what turned out to be the last ball before lunch, drawing him into the push outside off stump that he has been so susceptible to throughout his career. Though Imam-ul-Haq fell in a curiously similar manner, the set-up to that wicket had a bit more to it. Imam, who hasn’t quite looked the same player since being rattled by a Neil Wagner bouncer in the second ODI, had his helmet shaken by a horrible bouncer that stuck in the pitch just enough to meet the batsman’s ducking head. The next ball, he hung back, pushing tamely at a fuller one, prodding to a diving Southee, completing a textbook one-two for any fast bowler.

In the morning, BJ Watling continued where he had left off yesterday, earning himself another good night’s rest with a continuation of the pluck and fortitude that characterised his batting yesterday. Another 70 balls were faced by the wicketkeeper-batsman, while Somerville gave him dogged company, allowing Watling to add 35 further runs to his tally.

New Zealand notched up 45 more to their overnight total before they were dismissed for 274, Bilal Asif taking his second five-for in five Tests, solely accounting for the bottom half of New Zealand’s line-up as Pakistan took the best part of the morning session getting rid of the remaining three wickets.

A man whose position in the side was already beginning to be questioned – a mere three Tests after he took six wickets in his debut innings – Bilal earned himself some breathing room with his performance over the past four sessions. Even when he wasn’t among the wickets yesterday, he was as good as the irrepressible Yasir Shah, and today, he was the only bowler who looked like breaking through. Somerville, who had clung on for 99 balls to make his 12 runs, was the first to go as he misread the extent of the turn on a Bilal offbreak, allowing the ball to beat the slice of the blade and go on to hit the middle stump.

Patel and Boult didn’t quite offer the same level of resistance, and with Watling never showing any interest in farming the strike, Bilal had full freedom to go after the pair. He got the outside edge of Ajaz for a simple catch at slip, and beat the inside edge of Boult, knocking back his stumps, with Watling stranded at the other end, looking like he could partner another ten batsmen and still carry his bat at the end of it.

Yasir, for his part, wasn’t quite at his majestic best, and failed to add to his pre-lunch salvo yesterday, meaning that he will have to wait until the second innings for the two wickets he needs to break Clarrie Grimmett’s record as the fastest to 200 Test wickets. For now, however, that isn’t the priority, and the later Yasir gets his next crack at the record, the better it will be for Pakistan, who need to bat with the same patience and reserve as Williamson and his men did over the first four sessions of the Test. With Shafiq and Azhar still around to face the first ball tomorrow, Pakistan will be confident their budding 54-run partnership can blossom handsomely over the third day under the Abu Dhabi sunshine.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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nzfarmerAzhar Ali anchors Pakistan in reply to New Zealand’s 274

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