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Ton-up Kiwi openers leave Pakistan struggling

HAMILTON, New Zealand, March 29 (AFP) - Mathew Bell and Mark Richardson became just the third New Zealand opening pair to score a century apiece to leave Pakistan struggling in the third Test Thursday.

Both reached three figures for the first time in a Test as New Zealand ended a rain-shortened third day on 260 for two, a lead of 156 over Pakistan's meagre first innings total of 104.

Bell scored 105 and Richardson was unbeaten on 106 at the close. alongside promoted No 4 Craig McMillan on seven.

Just 43.1 overs were possible after rain and bad light interrupted the day, with New Zealand adding 100 runs for the loss of two wickets to their overnight score.

Bell and Richardson put on 181 for the first wicket, the fifth-highest opening partnership in New Zealand Test history.

Bell was playing his 11th Test and Richardson his ninth as they partnered each other for just the fifth time. Their previous partnerships had been one, 91, 102 and 69.

The only other opening pairs to score centuries in the same innings were Glenn Turner and Terry Jarvis against the West Indies in Georgetown, Guyana, in 1971-72 and Stu Dempster and Jack Mills against England in Wellington in 1929-30.

Bell and Richardson had to wait an anxious four hours before they got back on the field after the entire second day was washed out.

Bell, resuming 45 hours after going to stumps unbeaten on 89 on Monday, took 31 balls to reach his milestone.

He achieved it with a thick-edged single off spinner Saqlain Mushtaq in the day's ninth over after 258 minutes and 153 balls, including 16 fours.

His parents Gary and Sheryl arrived at the ground just 30 minutes before and were among the crowd of 1000 who gave Bell a standing ovation.

"I was pretty nervous and I wanted to get it out of the way as soon as possible," Bell said.

"It was a special moment ... it was quite hard to fight back the tears."

Richardson hadn't added to his overnight score of 64 when Bell brought up the mark under gloomy, threatening skies.

Bell celebrated reaching the milestone by pulling Waqar Younis through square leg for four but Younis then trapped him leg before wicket for 105 with a swinging yorker.

It was his sixth first-class century of the domestic season and left him with 1092 first-class runs for the New Zealand summer.

Richardson then had a lucky escape when he top edged a hook shot on 65 and it just cleared Fazle Akbar at fine leg.

With Mathew Sinclair, he ground away against some accurate Pakistan bowling, particularly from Saqlain.

Sinclair added an accomplished 27 off 76 balls but miscued a hook shot and was caught, ending a sequence of 281 Test runs without losing his wicket.

Richardson's time finally came in the day's 41st over in the gathering gloom when he square drove Younis for four after 408 minutes and 269 balls, including 14 fours and a six.

It left him with a remarkable 2030 first-class runs for the season, dating back to New Zealand's tour of Zimbabwe, and helped erase the painful memories of his 99 in his second Test against Zimbabwe in Harare in September.

"I found it a real struggle out there today," Richardson said.

"Their seamers bowled good lines and Saqlain Mushtaq's something else as a spinner."

Richardson also escaped a nasty injury when pace bowler Akbar struck him with a waist-high full toss late in the day in near darkness.

Both openers said they struggled with the stop-start nature of the day, with rain arriving twice just before the scheduled start.

New Zealand take a lead of 156 into Friday with two days to play, and Richardson said the team would want at least four sessions for their bowlers to complete the job and square the series 1-1.

After two days of inclement weather, the forecast is for improved conditions.

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