Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali restored some parity with individual tons after two attritional days where the ball did most of the talking, but the second half once again saw the bowlers dominate as Pakistan nosed ahead on Day 3 of the third and final Test against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi.
After a relentless 201-run stand between Azhar and Shafiq, New Zealand, led by debutant William Somerville's four-wicket haul, broke through picking up the last seven wickets for just 62 runs to bowl the hosts out for 348 and restrict the lead to 74 runs. Pakistan then struck back in the dying stages of the day to scalp two quick wickets leaving the game tantalizingly poised.
By the time stumps were drawn, New Zealand were 26/2 in 14 overs still trailing by 48 runs with Kane Williamson unbeaten on 14 along with nightwatchman Somerville who was 1*.
Resuming on 139/3, Azhar and Shafiq, unlike on the second day, looked quite positive in their approach. Azhar slammed the first ball of the day off Trent Boult up and over backward point to make his intentions clear before getting the sweep to good effect against Ajaz Patel to collect four more. Shafiq too got his boundary counter for the day up and running with a pristine straight drive as the signs looked ominous for the visitors early.
Pacer Tim Southee was the only one who asked questions often squaring the batsmen up. But with lesser pressure from the other end, both Azhar and Shafiq made merry. Four byes down leg brought the 100-run stand up for the duo before Azhar reached his 15th Test ton edging medium pacer Colin de Grandhomme through the vacant slips region. This was the right-hander's first century since his 127 against the West Indies 18 innings back.
His partner Shafiq too reached his half-century taking 142 balls with a brace off Patel as the hosts continued to reduce the deficit. Williamson took the second new ball in the 81st over, but nothing worked for the bowlers on a flat Sheikh Zayed Stadium surface. At lunch, the duo helped Pakistan through to 224/3 adding 85 runs in the morning session without losing a wicket.
The hour after lunch saw Shafiq taking the aggressive route as he slammed four boundaries to get Pakistan within three runs of New Zealand's first-innings score of 274. The hosts attained the lead soon after the drinks break in the second session as a long day in the field beckoned for the visitors.
However, a lapse in concentration from Azhar got New Zealand back into the game. The 33-year-old, looking for some runs down to the vacant square leg region, got the sweep out to a length ball only to top edge it straight to Patel at short fine leg giving Somerville his maiden Test wicket. Azhar fell for 134 in 297 deliveries which included 12 fours.
Shafiq then got to his 12th Test ton with a sharp single off Somerville but fell at the stroke of tea lbw to a straighter one by Patel for 104. He hit 14 boundaries in his 259-ball innings as Pakistan went into the interval at 312/5 with a lead of 38.
"It's always nice to bat with Azhar," said Shafiq after the end of the third day's play. "But it was disappointing that we couldn't get a big lead. It happens in cricket and you have to give credit to the bowlers.
"We need to get them out quickly tomorrow so that we don't need to chase a lot of runs."
The final session of the third day was a critical one for the visitors and they ensured they did not let the game drift away. Somerville struck with his third ball after the break castling Babar Azam for 14 before Patel induced an outside edge off Bilal Asif's (11) blade to first slip where Ross Taylor completed an excellent reflex catch to his left.
Sarfraz Ahmed struck a couple of crisp boundaries but with Pakistan losing wickets at regular intervals, found himself helpless. Yasir Shah (1) fell to a comical run out when, going for a second run, he lost his boot only to fall way short of the crease despite a dive. Hasan Ali was castled with a straighter one by Somerville who then wrapped up the innings with the wicket of Sarfraz to complete a four-wicket haul on debut. Pakistan, who were at one stage well settled at 304/4, lost their last six wickets for just 44 runs.
Somerville was the pick of the bowlers finishing with figures of 4/75 in 36 overs while Patel and Boult too chipped in with two wickets each.
New Zealand's second stint did not have the best of starts with the debutant Shaheen Afridi trapping opener Jeet Raval for a 15-ball duck. Yasir then got to wicket No. 199 when he had Tom Latham falling to a false shot for 10.