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Imperious Hafeez makes Pakistan dominate

SHARJAH: Opener Mohammad Hafeez played an imperious knock to anchor Pakistan to a dominating 281-3 on the opening day of the third and final Test against New Zealand in Sharjah on Wednesday. 

Arriving barely a day before the match started from England, where he had his bowling action tested under the ICC’s aegis, Hafeez showed no sign whatsoever of any distraction, stroking his way to his second century of the rubber, his seventh overall. At the stumps, at 178, he was within touching distance of his double hundred.

Through his focused innings, Pakistan dominated the day after winning a crucial toss, making the inevitable deciding of batting first on a flat Sharjah Stadium pitch.

Hafeez added an invaluable 121 for the unbroken fourth wicket with skipper Misbah-ul Haq, who was not out on a chancy 38, on the back of an 87-run stand for the second wicket with Azhar Ali (39).

Hafeez drove and pulled at every opportunity, with great authority, and was game for the lofted boundary whenever the occasion presented. ’s was an aggressive knock during which Hafeez drove and pulled with authority, clobbering 23 boundaries and three sixes and kept Pakistan on course for a 500-plus total from there they could dictate terms in this deciding Test.

Misbah, batting in his usual cautious style, benefitted from a dropped catch on 20 when wicket-keeper BJ Watling failed to hold an edge off leg-spinner Ish Sodhi. 

Pakistan led the three-match series 1-0, after winning the first Test in Abu Dhabi and drawing the second in Dubai.

New Zealand's trio of spinners failed to extract any spin, but Mark Craig (2-67) and recalled Daniel Vettori (1-28) still shared the three wickets to fall between them.

Seeking to level the three-match series after losing the first in Abu Dhabi by 248 runs and drawing the second in Dubai, New Zealand hit back in the second session by dismissing Ali and in-form Younis Khan for five.

Pakistan were comfortably placed at 82-1 at lunch but an otherwise cautious Ali quite needlessly dabbled at off-spinner Craig, gifting him his second wicket, caught in the slip off a loose shot.

In his post-match comments, Ali said, Hafeez was focused even before the Test. "He came back from England a day prior to the Test and played a brilliant knock.

"We won the toss but needed to score big and we are on course for that, a total of 500 or above would help us dictate terms."

Younis, who hit three hundreds in Pakistan's 2-0 rout of Australia last month and yet another in the first Test of this series, was trapped leg-before by left-armer Daniel Vettori.

Vettori, recalled in place of Jimmy Neehsam, is playing his 112th match for New Zealand, becoming his country's most capped player, beating Stephen Fleming who played 111.

Vettori also played one Test for an ICC World XI in 2005.

He was accorded a guard of honour by New Zealand players as he entered the field.

Hafeez reached his hundred with a couple of boundaries and a single, reaching the mark in 130 balls aided with 14 boundaries and two sixes.

In the first session, Pakistan had a confident start of 44 before Craig bowled Shan Masood for 12.

Pakistan made two changes from the Dubai Test lineup, dropping out-of-form opener Taufeeq Umar and injured Ehsan Adil, who suffered a side-muscle strain, bringing in Hafeez and paceman Mohammad Talha.

New Zealand brought Vettori, playing his first Test for 28 months, replacing Jimmy Neesham.