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ENG v PAK: Pakistan on the ropes, Azhar Ali stands tall with unbeaten century

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By: Express News Service |

Updated: August 24, 2020 8:55:58 am


Pakistan’s captain Azhar Ali, right, celebrates scoring a century during the third day of the third cricket Test match between England and Pakistan, at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, England, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. (Mike Hewitt/Pool via AP)

Pakistan skipper Azhar Ali scored a trenchant unbeaten 141, a slap on the face of his critics, but his effort could only offer a hint of respectability to the tourists’ first-innings effort. In response to England’s 583/8 declared, Pakistan were restricted to 273 with James Anderson completing his first five-wicket haul of the year, a haul that leaves him two wickets away from his 600th.

But at one point, even 200 had seemed distant. They were 30/4 before stumbling to 75/5 and it seemed England would consign Pakistan to humiliation. Then Ali intervened with adequate support from wicket-keeper batsman Mohammad Rizwan, who is rapidly enhancing his reputation as Pakistan’s late middle-order enforcer.

Ali had, so far, endured a torrid time in the series, batting as if he were a novice to the English conditions, tormented both by swing and seam. But a minor tweak went a long way in helping him rekindle his touch. He slightly opened up his stance, which reduced his tendency to play across the line of the delivery. The flick is his favourite stroke, but here it was also his undoing. Subsequently, he regained his judgment outside the off-stump and the balance when flicking. He also restrained from stabbing at deliveries outside the off-stump, another failing of his in the series.

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In the initial stages, he only scored through the leg-side. Flicks and clips were his staple shots as he gradually sculpted his innings. Once in his 30s, his confidence regained, he began venturing for more runs through the off-side, which came mostly through slap-cuts towards backward point and dabs through third-man. And when the spinner Dom Bess got a rare chance to bowl, he cut him twice for boundaries before sweeping him.

England gave him early jitters — he survived a string of near-misses and lbw shouts. In the alacrity to dismiss the skipper, England exhausted all their reviews by the 28th over. But thereafter he bedded in and completed his 17th Test hundred with a thumping cover drive. It was a knock that emblazoned clarity, determination and skill.

Offering him support was the tigerish Rizwan. He is in the fine tradition of hard-nosed Pakistani wicket-keepers. He copped a blow, saw off shaky passages of the game and lend an invaluable company for Ali. He defended stoutly and attacked opportunistically. He was especially severe on Jofra Archer, and every time he bowled slightly short he would cut and slash him. A blistering six off Bess brought him his second half-century of the series. Finally, it took Chris Woakes to terminate the 138-run union when he had Rizwan caught down the leg-side for a busy 53.

The day began disastrously for Pakistan, with Anderson removing Asad Shafiq with a millimetre-perfect out-swinger, just before the first of the many rain-breaks of the day. This was Anderson’s fourth wicket for 13 runs in 33 deliveries, and the 597th of his career. His 600th loomed on the horizon, but thereafter England and Anderson were made to sweat for the wickets. The veteran seam-bowler bowled as menacingly as he had this year, but wickets were not forthcoming. He was wretchedly unlucky too, as three catches were dropped in two overs off his bowling in the latter stages of Pakistan’s innings.

Brief Scores: England 583/8 declared leads Pakistan 273 in 90 overs (Azhar Ali 141 not out, Mohammad Rizwan 53; James Anderson 5/56) by 310 runs.

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