New Zealand need six wickets to win the first Test, Pakistan need to survive two sessions to save it
Lunch Pakistan 239 and 137 for 4 (Alam 48*, Rizwan 20*) need another 236 runs to beat New Zealand 431 and 180 for 5 dec
An unbroken fifth-wicket stand between Fawad Alam and Mohammad Rizwan, so far spanning 25.3 overs, has kept alive Pakistan’s hopes of saving the first Test at Mount Maunganui. With six wickets in hand, the visitors will need to survive two more sessions, with their chances of going after their target of 373 now close to nil on a two-paced fifth-day pitch offering uncertain bounce.
The pair came together in the second over of the morning, when Azhar Ali, batting on 38 off 119 at that point, nicked off attempting an uncharacteristically loose push outside off stump to a fullish ball from Trent Boult that seamed away to accentuate it’s angle across the right-hand batsman. Perhaps he was playing for inswing, with the previous ball having swung a touch down the leg side to allow him to pick up a boundary to fine leg.
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Alam and Rizwan then endured a multi-pronged examination of their techniques as New Zealand used unusual angles and set unorthodox fields to try and prise out a breakthrough on a pitch where edges were unlikely to carry to a regulation slip cordon. At one point, Boult bowled to Alam with two slips, two gullies, two short covers, short leg and short midwicket in place.
Alam’s unusual technique – an entirely open stance segueing into a hop across to a roughly side-on position at the point of release – prompted Boult and Tim Southee to test his ability to get a front-foot stride towards the ball, and there were a couple of early moments of despair for the home side when airborne drives flashed through and over the cover point and gully regions.
Fawad Alam works one off his pads AFP via Getty Images
Neil Wagner, as is his wont, set heavily stacked leg-side fields and attacked both batsmen with persistent short balls coming at them from their blind spot outside leg stump – from left-arm over to the right-hander and left-arm around to the left-hander. With the ball not always rising as high as expected, Alam had to get into uncomfortable positions to duck under quite a few of these bouncers.
Rizwan, after surviving a couple of airborne drives early on while he was yet to get his feet moving, worked himself back into the fluency he showed during his first-innings half-century, except his intent was geared more towards survival than shotmaking given the situation. Kyle Jamieson’s extra bounce unsettled him on the odd occasion, with one such ball bouncing backwards after hitting the face of his defensive bat and nearly bowling him.
As the session wore on, batting seemed to get easier with both batsmen getting used to the pitch’s slowness and the various modes of attack employed by the bowlers. Alam, who had initially ducked under nearly all of Wagner’s bouncers, changed tack as lunch approached, showing a willingness to play the pull shot, picking up a pair of boundaries in this manner.
New Zealand introduced Mitchell Santner late in the session, and the left-arm spinner began showing signs of settling into a rhythm over the course of a four-over spell. Santner has not had a major role to play in this Test match so far, but he could yet go on to influence its last two sessions.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo