From 13 for 2, they helped New Zealand recover to 128 for 2 at tea
Tea New Zealand 128 for 2 (Taylor 66*, Williamson 49*, Afridi 2-34) vs Pakistan
Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor repelled a display of suffocating discipline from Pakistan’s five-man attack to keep New Zealand in front after two sessions of the first Test at Mount Maunganui. Coming together in the 11th over of the Test match after Shaheen Afridi had dismissed both openers, Williamson and Taylor have put on an unbroken 115 to steer New Zealand to 128 for 2 at tea.
Twenty-one of the third-wicket pair’s runs came in a wayward three-over spell from Naseem Shah, following the day’s first drinks break. That spell apart, Pakistan’s bowlers offered the batsmen few easy runs, on a green pitch where the ball has seamed around but perhaps done less than most recent day-one pitches in this country.
New Zealand’s run rate hovered around the two-an-over mark through most of the post-lunch session and occasionally dropped below it, but the tempo picked up as tea approached and Taylor opened out either side of reaching his half-century, cutting Mohammad Abbas late, and paddle- and slog-sweeping Yasir Shah for two fours and a six in two overs.
Williamson ended the session a run away from a half-century, having batted all along in a near-impervious bubble of soft hands and astute judgment around his off stump. He had offered one half-chance, with Shan Masood putting down a difficult low catch to his left, after Naseem had found his edge shortly before lunch, but otherwise Pakistan didn’t often ruffle his composure despite their best efforts.
The most recent visitors to these shores, West Indies, had wasted the new ball in favourable conditions in their first Test in Hamilton, bowling too short and not making the top order play enough. Pakistan’s opening bowlers didn’t repeat that mistake, and Afridi was on target straightaway. His first ball asked Tom Latham those two most pressing questions – come forward or go back, and play or leave – and hesitant responses to both led to an outside edge running away between third slip and gully. Latham didn’t survive a similar examination two balls later, however, edging straight to third slip.
Two right-handers were at the crease now, and Afridi tested them on both edges with his left-arm-over angle and the threat of the ball swinging back. Mohammad Abbas, meanwhile, ensured there were no easy leaves with a line that was more middle-and-off than off-stump.
This both-ends examination soon led to the wicket of Tom Blundell, who failed to get his weight fully forward into a drive against Afridi, and edged low to third slip in the 11th over of the morning.
Afridi and Abbas couldn’t continue forever, however, and for a while it appeared that Naseem’s expensive first spell would take the pressure off New Zealand entirely. But Pakistan pulled Naseem out of the attack, replacing him with Yasir Shah, who quickly settled into a rhythm and brought the run-flow back under control. Then Naseem, returning for a short second spell shortly before lunch, produced the missed half-chance that nearly sent back Williamson.
The two new-ball bowlers were back in tandem after lunch, and Taylor and Williamson survived another searching examination. Afridi produced a rare loose drive from Williamson, away from his body, and the ball streaked away past gully. Abbas, at the stumps nearly every ball while hardly ever straying too straight, found Taylor’s edge with a full ball that swung wickedly late, away from off stump, and once again the ball ran away through the cordon.
These moments could have weakened the resolve of another attack, but Pakistan kept coming, with the change bowlers doing their bit too. Naseem was an improved force through the second session, twice beating Taylor with balls that seamed extravagantly against the initial angle from wide of the crease, and Faheem Ashraf did a stellar job as a fifth bowler, bowling just back of a length, on or around off stump. He conceded just 15 runs in 10 overs through the first two sessions, and he’ll have a lot more work to do the longer Williamson and Taylor remain at the crease.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo