Attend any Black Caps match and you’ll see a smattering of fans wearing white sailor captain’s hats with the words Steady The Ship, a tribute to Black Caps skipper Kane Williamson.
Rarely has that moniker been more apt than on the second day of the second test against Pakistan, Williamson steadying the ship in classic fashion, then unleashing the full array of his arsenal on a tiring tourists’ attack as he eased to a 24th test century – and first at Hagley Oval.
And, along with hometown hero Henry Nicholls, Williamson turned a precarious position into a dominant one in Christchurch.
By stumps, New Zealand had reached 286-3 in response to 297 compiled by Pakistan on the first day, a strong position achieved through a big dose of hard work and a slice of good fortune.
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Williamson was unbeaten on 112 and Nicholls 89, the pair having combined for an unbeaten 215-run partnership for the fourth wicket.
The good fortune came in the form of a massive let-off by Pakistan, one which could prove to have been a huge turning point in three days’ time.
On top with the hosts struggling soon after lunch, Shaheen Shah Afridi looked to have reduced them further into the mire at 74-4 when Nicholls, on just three, nicked one through to Mohammad Rizwan behind the stumps.
But the elation turned to devastation when word filtered through to on-field umpire Chris Brown that Shaheen had overstepped. No ball, no wicket, and no breakthrough for the rest of the day as they were made to pay to the fullest extent.
They didn’t help themselves later in the day, either, with Shan Masood dropping Williamson at slip on 82 and at gully on 107, and wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan put a straight-forward chance from Nicholls down when on 86, though they were unfortunate not to have Williamson run out, also on 107, when he made his ground by a single frame.
After negotiating a testing post-lunch spell from Shaheen, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah and Faheem Ashraf, with only 30 runs scored in 14 tight overs, Williamson and Nicholls were able to prosper with the introduction of a couple of part-time bowlers before tea, and then into the third session with the pace attack having lost some zip.
The skipper punched a few through the covers and down the ground, and clipped a few off his pads, and had soon compiled a half century without giving Pakistan much a sniff.
Nicholls’ 11th test 50 followed soon after. By the third session the ramp shot and reverse sweep had come out of the bag and away he went.
The Black Caps rattled up 143 runs in the final session, capitalising on the graft of the first two sessions when Pakistan’s bowlers were consistently challenging and provided very little loose stuff to latch onto.
Highlighting how rapidly they moved the score along, Williamson took 105 balls to score his first 50 but just 35 balls to go between 50 and 100, fittingly bringing up his ton with a neat leg glance, the 15th of his 16 boundaries. It was his third hundred in his last three tests.
One over off Naseem was particularly memorable, as Williamson went from 82 to 94 with clipped two beautifully timed shots through midwicket for four and then an exquisite on-drive.
Earlier, openers Tom Blundell and Tom Latham safely negotiated the first 90 minutes of the day but both succumbed before lunch.
Blundell was trapped in front by Ashraf and sent on his way for 16, but only after Pakistan successfully reviewed Chris Gaffaney’s not out decision. Latham fell for 33 to a sharp catch by Haris Sohail at first slip after second slip Masood initially dropped a sitter – the first of three drops for them – but he was fortunate Sohail reacted quick enough to pouch it before it hit the ground.
When Ross Taylor nicked one from Abbas to Masood for 12, New Zealand were in trouble at 71-3. Then came the turning point and the rest of the day belonged to Williamson and Nicholls.