A true old-school cricket test has broken out in Abu Dhabi, and the Black Caps are hoping to party like it's 1969.

The Black Caps' hopes of a first away test series victory over Pakistan in 49 years lie in the balance, after both teams battled hard on a slow, measured, day two of the third and deciding test.

At 139-3 in response to the Black Caps' first innings of 274, Pakistan do have the slight edge, but the Black Caps have reasons for optimism which were never present in the second test.

For the first time all series, you could legitimately point to a moment where the Black Caps held the first innings ascendancy, and while Pakistan battled back by the end of the day, the visitors can map out a realistic path to victory.

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For starters, they'll need a more threatening bowling performance. Trent Boult took two wickets in his first three overs, but after that, Pakistan offered few chances against a New Zealand attack that was tidy, but largely unthreatening.

A big task awaits New Zealand's spin bowlers as a result, with plenty required from a duo which has two tests of experience between them. After Bilal Asif and Yasir Shah combined for eight wickets in the first innings, Ajaz Patel and Will Somerville needed to be similarly effective, and although both bowled solid lines and were economical, neither created any significant chances.

That has to change if the Black Caps are to have a hope of victory, because although they'll have the benefit of bowling last on their side, they cannot allow Pakistan to post a big first innings lead.

With Azhar Ali (62) and Asad Shafiq (26) set and resuming on day three, and Babar Azam and Sarfraz Ahmed still to bat, the talent is there to bat the Black Caps out of the test, but if – if – the Black Caps can manage to execute their bowling plans, then Pakistan's long tail order provides a massive opportunity for the Black Caps to take the initiative in this toil of a test.

Boy, what a grind it has been. The respective run rates (2.35 and 2.27) tell a story, as does 58 runs coming off the 30-over final session as Pakistan ever so slowly fought their way back to a solid position.

Pakistan went 28 overs without a boundary at one point, yet that wasn't close to being the most patient performance of the day, with Somerville channelling Geoff Allott by batting for over an hour without adding a run to his overnight tally of 12.

He did that in support of BJ Watling, who became the 14th New Zealander to reach 3000 test runs. The 33-year-old faced 250 balls in a dogged effort, finishing unbeaten on 77 as he added some handy runs with the tail – mainly a 45-run stand for the eighth wicket with Somerville.

Will Somerville and BJ Watling combined for a valuable 45-run partnership. Photo / Photosport
Will Somerville and BJ Watling combined for a valuable 45-run partnership. Photo / Photosport

However, Asif finally broke through 99 balls of stern Somerville defence, and Watling was probably guilty of not farming the strike enough at the end of the innings. Ajaz Patel added six runs before spooning Asif to slip, and when Boult was allowed to take a single off the final ball of an over, it proved a bad decision.

Asif ended up claiming 5-65, to go with Shah's 3-75, and he ended Boult's innings quickly, knocking over his stumps for a solitary run, as Boult took a wild swing.

Boult more than made up for it when he returned with the ball, however.

Once more, Pakistan's openers failed to deliver, continuing their series-long struggles. Mohammad Hafeez - who later announced his retirement from test cricket - was the first to go, fending at a Boult delivery which was superbly taken low at second slip by Tim Southee; the long-time combination teaming up to reduce Pakistan to 0-1 before lunch.

Hafeez's fellow opener, Imam ul-Haq, lasted for an extra hour, but 40 minutes of those were spent eating lunch. Once he returned to the pitch, what was on offer proved far less appetising, with Boult striking ul-Haq on the helmet with a bouncer, before next ball claiming his wicket.

A full ball forced ul-Haq to defend, but Boult drew the edge, and it flew to third slip where Southee again took an excellent low catch.

Not for the first time, Pakistan were in a touch of strife, but first Haris Sohail (34), then Ali and Shafiq, put their heads down and fought out of trouble. An unbroken stand of 54 saw Pakistan through to stumps, 135 runs behind, and poised for what should be another deliberate - but decisive - day.