Azhar, Babar fifties blunt West Indies

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Pakistan eased into their comfort zone in the evening session of a truncated day’s play in Roseau. They played as they like to – slow, solid, unremarkable – scoring at a run rate around 2.50 throughout the day, ending on 169 for 2 in 69 overs. Azhar Ali and Babar Azam looked settled for most parts, much more so than one would have expected after their team was thrust in to bat under gloomy skies. The late wicket of Babar gave West Indies something to cling to on at the end of a long day.

After the brighter evening skies allowed for an extended final session, Azhar and Babar resumed their dominance, but the lengthy break seemed to have taken much of the intensity out of the game. The scoring rate dropped and there was a palpable lull in proceedings as Pakistan inched along in conditions that looked to have improved for batting.

There was a slice of luck for Babar soon after play resumed, a perfect legspinner from Devendra Bishoo taking his outside edge on 28, only for Dowrich to put down a straightforward catch. Excitement elsewhere was in precious little supply as Azhar brought up his half-century soon after and Pakistan hit cruise control.

Shane Dowrich floored Babar Azam on 28

There was a massive scare for the West Indies early on in the session, with their ace bowler Shannon Gabriel heading off the field with a niggle. Much to their relief, however, he was able to make his way back soon after, and, despite remaining wicketless, was the pick of the bowlers, wielding an aura of control over proceedings that his fellow bowlers couldn’t quite match.

But it was Alzarri Joseph who provided the breakthrough towards the end of the day, with a fifth stump line that Babar couldn’t quite decide whether to leave or play. He did neither in the end, and his bat jutted out indecisively. The ball caught the outside edge and carried through to slip, but not before he had scored 55 in a 120-run partnership that had put his side in a position of authority.

That heralded the most memorable moment of the day, as the West Indies players formed a guard of honour to allow Pakistan’s next batsmen to pass through. Younis Khan strode in to respectful, almost reverent applause from the Dominica crowd before shaking Jason Holder’s hand as a way of thanks, and then drawing him in with a warm embrace. With the niceties out of the way, West Indies brought their best bowler Gabriel back into the attack, knowing Younis’ wicket could put an entirely different spin on proceedings. Pakistan’s most prolific runscorer, however, stood firm, living to bat yet another day.

The first session, to borrow from a football cliché, was one of two halves with Pakistan scoring freely after the first hour, during which they managed just 19 runs in 13 overs for the loss of Shan Masood. The cloudy weather resembled much of the first Test, and Azhar Ali and Masood, replacing the ill Ahmed Shehzad, started tentatively against the late swing of Gabriel and Joseph. As the pair pounded away at the Pakistan side they had skittled for 81 less than a week earlier, the scoring rate wasn’t of as much importance as the wickets column.

With the bowlers on top, it was surprising to see Holder introduce part-time offspinner Roston Chase into the attack as early as the ninth over. What was even more unexpected was the prodigious turn and bounce Chase extracted, beating the left-handed Masood’s bat almost every ball. Masood’s eventual dismissal was entirely in keeping with the events leading up to it, as he finally edged an offbreak that carried low to Jason Holder at second slip.

The run rate picked up sharply after the drinks interval, with Chase, who didn’t concede a run in his first three overs, lofted for two sixes off consecutive overs by Azhar. With the left-hand batsman gone, Chase found himself unable to take advantage of the footmarks created by the fast bowlers, and his potency rapidly decreased.

By the time lunch was called, the tables had been turned almost completely, with the West Indies on the defensive as Pakistan tried to stamp their authority on a session they might have been dreading by the drinks break.

The rest of the day continued in much the same fashion, though with rain expected across the remaining four days of the Test, Pakistan will have to speed up their run rate if they are to prevail in a Test that would give them their first ever series win in the Caribbean. (ESPNCricinfo)

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