To stop a side on the rampage is one of the most difficult tasks for any nation in cricket. New Zealand had the unenvious job of trying to halt the Pakistan juggernaut that has been on a roll in recent times. After whitewashing the Australians at home 3-0, Pakistan began the series against New Zealand on a high as well, winning the first match rather comfortably. Thus, the Pakistanis were always going to be favourites heading into the second Test. New Zealand were under extreme pressure to stay alive in the series, and did so rather credibly. After the manner of defeat a few days earlier, this hard-fought draw was a complete turnaround for the two sides.
It was the batting which saved the day for New Zealand in the second Test. Opener Tom Latham, who batted with gusto in the opening match was the central figure again for the Kiwis. His century set up the match nicely for the Kiwis. A ton on the first day by the batting side often sets the tone of the match, and makes it very difficult for the opponent to claim victory from there onwards. This is what happened with Pakistan, and this is precisely why Latham's effort was so crucial to the match. Once he got that hundred, New Zealand had seized the early initiative, and even though the game ebbed and flowed, the impact of the ton remained throughout the end.
In many ways, the game was about the tale of tons. The veteran Ross Taylor came up with his 12th Test hundred to return to form after an extended lean spell. It is no secret that Taylor is crucial to New Zealand's fortunes, and his lack of form hurts the side in a big way. Thus, his hundred on Friday made such a major difference to the team. Even as the other New Zealand batsmen struggled, and Pakistan fought back into the game, Taylor ensured that the hosts did not have it easy, and actually helped New Zealand into such a comfortable position that they were able to declare, and give Pakistan a promising target.
The other hundred which had a major impact on the game was that of Sarfraz Ahmed. The Pakistani wicketkeeper's fighting century in the first innings ensured that they could recover from a poor start, and not give New Zealand any sort of significant lead. At one point in the game, it seemed like the Kiwis would end up with a massive advantage, after having run through the top and middle order. But, Ahmed along with Younis Khan made sure that Pakistan got very close to the New Zealand score, thus making it a second-innings contest.
New Zealand actually had a chance to push for a win after Brendon McCullum went for a sporting declaration. And, although Pakistan managed to stave off defeat, the Kiwis should be pleased of what they achieved in the game, especially after the drubbing they received in the opening Test. They still must improve in the batting and bowling department though as they head into the final Test. If you take out the hundreds, other New Zealand batsmen could contribute much. Also, spin bowling is a worry, as Ish Sodhi went wicketless on the final day at Dubai. All to play for then for New Zealand in the final Test.
--By A Cricket Analyst