Babar Azam’s maiden ton sets up big Pakistan win

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There is an air of serenity around Babar Azam. He is technically correct in defence and drives with the head over the ball. He was among those to receive glowing appraisals from coach Mickey Arthur after the disastrous tour of England. The 21-year-old Azam only enhanced his reputation in Sharjah with his maiden ODI hundred on Friday.

 

His effort, sandwiched between Sharjeel Khan’s half-century, and late blows from the lower order, led Pakistan to 284 for 9 in a match reduced to 49-overs-a-side because of a floodlight failure. Chasing 287, courtesy the Duckworth-Lewis revisions, West Indies sleepwalked their way, much like they had done in the T20Is, to 175 and round off another demoralising defeat.

 

Azam walked in to bat after the first ball of the match, a Shannon Gabriel beauty which had Azhar Ali nicking behind for a duck. It took a stunning catch from Kieron Pollard at the edge of the wide long-on boundary to ultimately dismiss Azam in the 43rd over for 120 off 131 balls.

 

In between, there was a display of scintillating strokes coupled with risk-free cricket and a stroke of luck – he survived a close lbw appeal off Sulieman Benn. He lugged 70 of his runs through ones and twos: excellent running in humid conditions.

Sharjeel Khan celebrates his fifty
Sharjeel Khan celebrates his fifty

Azam first added 82 for the second wicket with Sharjeel, and then 99 for the fourth with Sarfraz Ahmed. Azam was wary of the seam movement generated by Jason Holder and Gabriel, and played with a straight bat more often than not. It was Sharjeel who did the early running though, clattering 44 of Pakistan’s 60 in the Powerplay.

 

West Indies’ Powerplay, on the other hand, was a crawl. If they hoped to stop the rot at the top of the order by introducing a debutant in Kraigg Brathwaite, who had played 31 Tests before this game, they were in for a reality check. They managed all of two boundaries in their first ten overs, both supplied by Johnson Charles before he was dismissed by Mohammad Amir.

 

After posing a threat with a bevy of away-going deliveries from over the wicket, Amir had switched his angle to around the wicket and coaxed the ball to straighten enough to take the outside edge. West Indies had to wait 30 balls for their next boundary, which was also Kraigg Brathwaite’s first, off the 34th ball he faced.

West Indies lost wickets at regular intervals during the run-chase
West Indies lost wickets at regular intervals during the run-chase

Kraigg Brathwaite’s ordinary debut ended when he angled Hasan Ali behind in the next over for 14 off 38 balls. Mohammad Nawaz, the left-arm spinner, then unravelled the chase with three quick strikes, including those of Darren Bravo and Ramdin.

 

When Kieron Pollard sliced a catch to deep point, Pakistan were 99 for 5 and the asking rate had crept towards eight. Marlon Samuels briefly swung his way to 46 before West Indies were bowled out in 38.4 overs. They just couldn’t find a way to adapt, again.

 

Sharjeel, though, had adapted well enough, even as West Indies blocked his favoured leg-side region in the evening.With the seamers’ modus operandi of testing Sharjeel in the channel outside off, he responded by hitting a flurry of boundaries straight down the ground. He scythed Gabriel over mid-off for a brace of fours before shovelling Carlos Brathwaite and Holder over long-on.

 

The introduction of spin, however, slowed Pakistan down. Only 65 runs came off the next 15 overs for the loss of Sharjeel and Shoaib Malik. Benn, who bowled slower through the air as opposed to firing it in, provided West Indies with their first breakthrough when he had Sharjeel skewing an outside edge to short third man for a 43-ball 54. Twenty balls later, Sunil Narine found Shoaib Malik’s outside edge, which was held at slip.

 

In between the two wickets, Azam endured the first of the two insecure moments during his knock. Benn slid in an arm-ball, which rapped Azam on the pad. Ahsan Raza, the on-field umpire, shot down the appeal, but Holder insisted on a review. Hawk-Eye showed that the ball would carry onto hit the top of the stumps, which meant umpire’s call was upheld. Then in the 27th over, he escaped when Carlos Brathwaite failed to effect a direct hit off his own bowling following a mix-up with Sarfraz.

 

Sarfraz, himself, was reprieved on 5 when Denesh Ramdin fluffed a stumping chance. He proceeded to keep the score ticking with Azam. Just as he threatened to cut loose, Holder duped him with a slower ball.

Azam, however, carried on to raise his ton off 119 balls, having been on 50 off 74 balls. He reached three figures when he drove Narine through the covers in the 38th over. He celebrated the landmark by leaping in the air before performing the sajdah.

 

Azam then spanked Benn and Narine for leg-side sixes, but when he attempted one against Carlos Brathwaite, Pollard snaffled the big hit.

 

A floodlight failure, which lasted for over an hour, handed West Indies another respite. Pakistan were limited to 24 for 3 in 4.3 overs upon resumption, but it only offered them crumbs of consolation. (ESPNCricinfo)

 

Cover photo caption: Babar Azam’s maiden hundred was the highlight of the match

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