Azhar’s century headlines opening day of Pakistan’s 400th Test
Pakistan dominated the first day of their 400th Test, piling on 279 for 1, after Misbah-ul-Haq won the toss and opted to bat. Openers Azhar Ali and Sami Aslam made the most of the batting-friendly conditions in Dubai, sharing a double-century stand, before Asad Shafiq came in at No. 3 and lent his weight to a batting effort that deflated West Indies.
In theory, both teams were in uncharted territory, playing their first day-night Test – and the second overall – at a time when the concept is still new, with the behaviour of the pink ball under scrutiny. In practice, the ball did not do much in the afternoon heat and, while there was a bit more for the West Indies bowlers under lights, they did not do enough to threaten the batsmen for sustained periods.
The pink ball offered very little swing to the new-ball bowlers and very little reverse-swing as it got older. On both counts, West Indies did not help their own cause.
At the start of the day, both Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder were too short to give the new ball a chance to swing. Miguel Cummins bowled fuller, but not consistently enough. As the ball grew older, West Indies seemed uninterested in keeping one side shiny to extract reverse-swing.
Azhar was fluent almost from the outset, marrying a tight defence with a number of sumptuous drives. One such drive, wide of mid-off off Roston Chase’s bowling, brought up his 11th Test century, off 184 balls.
He didn’t stop there, walking off at stumps on an unbeaten 146. His opening partner, Aslam, was the more circumspect of the two, but both batsmen were very strong on the cut when the bowlers dropped short.
Aslam often skipped out to the spinners to hit them down the ground, but was equally impressive when leaving balls outside off. He also used the sweep shot quite effectively, but it was that shot that led to his eventual downfall – he got a bottom-edge onto the stumps off Chase to depart for 90 and end a 215-run opening stand.
That brought Shafiq to the crease at No. 3. Though Shafiq has mostly batted at the No. 6 position in international cricket, he is a regular No. 3 in domestic cricket. Moreover, the adjustment from No. 6 to No. 3 is minimal when the openers have consumed more than 67 overs and the pitch has no terrors. Shafiq took his time to settle into his innings and calmly accumulated 33 runs, before walking back undefeated at stumps.
While the first ball held its shape for the full 80 overs, it was quite discoloured and tattered by the time the second new ball was due. Holder, who had looked increasingly unimpressed with the state of the older ball, took that new ball immediately. Like the first new ball, though, it did not offer much in the way of swing and the second-wicket partnership steadily swelled to 64 by the close of play.
It was Gabriel who had generated the first of two half-chances for West Indies in the first session. In his second over, he seamed one away from Azhar to induce an outside edge, but the ball fell short of Kraigg Brathwaite at second slip. Cummins generated the other in his second spell when Azhar slashed a short, wide delivery towards Leon Johnson at gully; the ball burst through Johnson’s hands and raced away to third man for a boundary.
If the bowling was not sufficiently penetrative, the decision-making was also puzzling at times. West Indies used six bowlers before tea, but there was no discernible logic in the manner in which they were used.
Brathwaite bowled three overs of gentle offspin before either Devendra Bishoo or Chase was introduced. By the time Bishoo was called upon, in the 21st over of the chase, Azhar and Aslam had grown in confidence and were finding the boundary with increasing regularity, pouncing whenever the bowlers erred.
The one spell that came close to being penetrative was Holder’s spell immediately after the tea break. With a bit more bounce and carry under lights, Holder bowled with more intensity, troubling Azhar with some well-directed bouncers. Azhar fended a few of those in the air, but got away with it due to the lack of close-in fielders.
When Holder went up for a big lbw shout against Azhar and reviewed the not-out decision, West Indies lost their first review. Replays showed ball would have missed leg stump. Thereafter, Gabriel and Cummins also found more pace, the former bowling some good bouncers to Aslam.
Bishoo also created his closest opportunity under lights, wrapping Aslam on the pads, but the not-out decision was upheld upon review when HawkEye indicated that the ball would have gone down leg with the angle.
Such fleeting moments of encouragement were all West Indies had to cling to on a deflating opening day in which the pink ball did not misbehave and the bowlers were largely unthreatening. (ESPNCricinfo)