New Zealand lose Latham, Blundell after a solid first hour as the Test is back in the balance
Lunch New Zealand 66 for 2 (Taylor 10*, Williamson 4*, Ashraf 1-11) trail Pakistan 297 (Azhar 93, Jamieson 5-69) by 231 runs
In a session of two halves, Pakistan, toothless and searching for answers in the first hour, came storming back in a manner only they can in the second.
New Zealand’s openers had started solidly in pursuit of Pakistan’s 297. They saw off the first hour without any flutters on a sunny morning, but found ways to waste strong starts after doing all the hard work. This gave Pakistan a whiff as they ended the session on 66 for 2, with the old guard of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor needing to steer them to safety.
Shaheen Afridi didn’t make the batsmen play enough in that first hour and Mohammad Abbas was largely a tad short amid the occasional full deliveries he beat the batsmen with. Latham and Blundell negated any late movement there was by standing well outside the crease, thereby cutting off the lbws.
While runs didn’t reel off the blade – Latham only hit his first boundary in the seventh over and Blundell took 20 deliveries to get off the mark – the batsmen seemed in no discomfort. The only real opportunity in the first hour despite the ball doing quite a bit off the wicket was Afridi’s missed run out chance to reprieve Blundell at mid-on on 11.
It took Naseem Shah’s introduction in the 11th over for Pakistan to settle into a bowling template. He induced a leading edge through the slips off his very first delivery, and Faheem Ashraf took cue from there to stick to a wicket-to-wicket line that brought him rewards almost immediately when he trapped Blundell plumb in front.
Having struck Blundell on the pad earlier in the over and then been picked through the cordon off a streaky edge to the third man fence, he had the last laugh. Blundell’s half-hearted push to a nip-backer trapped him plumb in front despite standing well outside the crease. Ball-tracking confirmed this would’ve crashed into the leg stump as Pakistan made excellent use of DRS.
In the next over, Afridi, brought back into the attack, after a rather lackluster first spell, did what he should’ve done much earlier. He made Latham play the ball, which jagged away just about enough to induce the edge. Shan Masood made a mess of the catch at second slip, but was thankful to Haris Sohail and his freakishly good reflexes as he grabbed the rebound at first slip. Suddenly, it was two in two for Pakistan, a frustrating morning magically transforming into a fruitful one.
Williamson and Taylor saw through the rest of the session without much hiccups, but have much to do if New Zealand are to seize the initiative yet again. The Test was back in the balance and how.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo