Ross Taylor made an unbeaten 102 and Tom Latham 80 to play New Zealand into a controlling position after the fourth day of the second cricket Test on Monday, edging it closer to a rare series victory over Pakistan.
Taylor reached his 16th Test century in a match he wasn’t expected to play because of eyesight problems, allowing New Zealand to declare at 313-5 20 minutes before stumps, setting Pakistan a chase of 369 to win.
In raising three figures, Taylor moved within one of the New Zealand record of 17 Test centuries held by his mentor Martin Crowe, who died earlier this year of cancer.
Taylor was thought likely to be stood down for this match after specialists discovered a growth in his left eye which must be surgically removed. He chose to turn out ahead of the six week break which will follow surgery and saw the ball superbly to post his first century in his last 14 Test innings.
“My batting has been average over the last little while and I haven’t performed and contributed as much as I would have liked so it was nice to have a bit of luck and score a Test century,” Taylor said. “It was good to hit a couple out of the middle in the first innings and I guess that gave me confidence for the second innings.
“I think sometimes I felt good and just didn’t score runs. As a player you want to be able to contribute to team performances and I haven’t been able to do that but hopefully after the operation I can come back and continue from where I left off.”
Pakistan had to negotiate three overs in 11 minutes before stumps and reached 1 without loss. It has at least 98 overs at its disposal on the final day to score the 368 runs it needs to win the Test, square the series and defend its outstanding record in New Zealand.
The home team leads the two-match series 1-0 after winning the first Test at Christchurch by seven wickets and is now in a position to win a Test series against Pakistan in New Zealand for the first time since 1985.
Pakistan has won five and drawn three of the eight series played in New Zealand in the past 31 years and is unbeaten in its last 12 series against New Zealand (seven wins and five draws) home and away.
New Zealand began the fourth day with a 55 run first innings lead after dismissing Pakistan for 216 in reply to its 271. Latham’s partnerships of 96 for the second wicket with Kane Williamson (41) and 52 for the third with Taylor tightened its grip and avoided the early wicketfalls which might have brought Pakistan back into the match.
New Zealand needs only a draw to win the series but now has a strong chance for a second-straight Test win, having come into this series on the back of four consecutive Test losses in South Africa and India.
Discerning its intention throughout the day – whether it was playing for a draw or a win – was sometimes difficult. It played cautiously at first, scoring 97 runs in an extended first session in which 33 overs were bowled but then adding a further 84 runs in the 24 overs of the second session.
Latham helped to build the innings and reached his half century – his 16th in Tests but only his third at home – in 154 minutes from 103 balls. His entire innings lasted four hours and was peppered with 12 boundaries and punctuated by one major scare.
At 21, he survived by the skin of his teeth a run out chance when substitute fieldsman Yasir Shah hit the stumps directly with an underarm throw, in the same instant that Latham’s bat cut the creaseline.
Taylor batted relatively briskly, though not as fast as in the first innings when he took 37 from 31 balls. His half century – his first in 12 Test innings – came in 142 minutes from 82 balls including seven boundaries, while his century took 225 minutes.
Taylor also had a major scare when he was adjudged lbw to Wahab Riaz on 16, before television replays showed the bowler had over-stepped.
Colin de Grandhomme appeared to have been sent out to accelerate the scoring, taking a boundary from the first ball he faced and assembling 32 runs from only 11 scoring shots before he became Imran Khan’s third victim of the day. Later wicketkeeper B.J. Watling took 40 deliveries to reach 15 not out at the declaration.
Khan, the third seamer and workhorse of a Pakistan attack which lacks a specialist spinner, bowled 20.3 overs into a strong wind on Monday and captured the wickets of Williamson, Henry Nicholls (26) and de Grandhomme to finish with 3-76.
The Test is now set up for an exciting finish as New Zealand chases 10 wickets and Pakistan 368 runs. The pitch is no longer providing the assistance it did to seam bowlers through the first three days but it has also become a little two-paced and survival may be difficult.
“I think the bowlers set the game up in the first innings and hopefully we can get 10 wickets tomorrow,” Taylor said. “But it’s still a good batting wicket.
“Pakistan has got nothing to lose, they’re 1-0 down and I’m sure they’ll come hard at us.”