SHARJAH: On an otherwise sombre day, with pall of gloom thick in the air, Brendon McCullum smashed the fastest century by a New Zealand batsman and in the process not just overshadowed Mohammad Hafeez's 197 but, with three days to go, he also gave New Zealand an upper hand in the third and final Test against Pakistan in Sharjah on Friday.
When bad light ended play seven overs before the allotted 90 overs for the day were bowled, the Black Caps captain had smashed his way to a trademark 153 just off 145 deliveries, his 10th hundred coming off a New Zealand record 78 balls.
But more importantly, McCullum’s blazing innings meant that by the stumps, the Black Caps were just 102 shy of Pakistan’s first innings total of 351.
Kane Williamson couldn’t quite match his skipper's aggression but he too made an impact with a solid 76 in an impressive 198 for the unfinished second wicket stand which gave New Zealand the edge in its quest to level the series, which they trail 1-0.
Pakistan won the first Test while the second ended in a draw.
McCullum's rapidfire knock came in the gloomy atmosphere post Phillip Hughes’ tragic death. The Team Pakistan and the Black Caps both observed a minute's silence before the start of play and wore black armbands to join in the worldwide mourning for Hughes, who died Thursday after being hit by a bouncer.
The teams had abandoned Thursday's second day's play as a mark of respect for the talented Australian.
The dismissals came thick and fast, yet none was celebrated.
New Zealand's coach Mike Hesson admitted the day was gloomy despite his team's dominance.
"It wasn't about cricket today," said Hesson. "It was about supporting a fellow player and the key for us to stay calm as some players were struggling more than the others.
"Craig showed a lot of character and his drift and variety got him rewards," said Hesson.
McCullum stole the show, hitting eight sixes, the highest against Pakistan by any batsman, four of these off left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar, on top of 17 boundaries as New Zealand rattled the total in just 45 overs.
In the penultimate over before tea McCullum hit four boundaries in one Mohammad Talha over before two quick singles completed his hundred.
This was the fastest century ever by a New Zealand batsman, beating the 81-ball hundred Ross Taylor made against Australia at Hamilton in 2010.
Williamson, who had a dismal series before this match, fed off McCullum and hit seven fours and a six off 96 balls.
Their stand is New Zealand's best for second wicket against Pakistan, beating the 195 between John Wright and Geoff Howarth in Napier in 1997.
Pakistan's bowling attack looked hapless against McCullum as Babar was clouted for 71 in his 10 overs while leggie Yasir Shah gave 59 in as many overs.
Tom Latham was the only wicket to fall, caught behind off Rahat Ali for 13.
Earlier off-spinner Mark Craig took a career best 7-94 as Pakistan lost their last seven wickets for 70 runs to get bowled out for 351 after resuming at 281-3, squandering a strong position on a flat Sharjah Stadium pitch.
Opener Mohammad Hafeez hit a career-best 197 before he top-edged a pull off leg-spinner Ish Sodhi and was caught at deep square-leg.
He hit 25 boundaries and three sixes during a dominating seven hour ten minute stay at the crease to better his previous highest of 196 made against Sri Lanka in Colombo two years ago.
But it was skipper Misbah-ul-Haq who sparked a collapse, edging a wide one from seamer Tim Southee to wicket-keeper BJ Watling in the fourth over of the day, without adding to his Wednesday's score of 38.
Craig quickly wrapped up the middle and lower order, dismissing Asad Shafiq (11), Sarfraz Ahmed (15), Talha (nought), Rahat Ali (nought) and Yasir Shah (25) – his last four wickets coming off just 25 deliveries.
Craig's previous best of 4-91 came in his debut Test against the West Indies in Jamaica in June this year.