Consistent Azhar keeps Pakistan afloat against Sri Lanka in 1st Test
ABU DHABI – For so long Azhar Ali was seen as the ideal batsman to take over from the great Younis Khan and Misbahul Haq and he came to Pakistan’s rescue yet again on the third day of the first Test against Sri Lanka on Saturday.
His determination to succeed and his consistency are exemplary, and his will to score runs was once again evident at Sheikh Zayed Stadium as he anchored Pakistan’s 266 for 4 with 74 not out at close of play in reply to Sri Lanka’s 419.
Babar Azam was also looking settled, but he fell in the last over to a leg side catch off Nuwan Pradeep for 28 to give Sri Lanka a slight edge in the match. Pakistan still trails by 153 runs with six wickets in hand.
Azhar has scored more runs than any of the Pakistani batsmen and, even in the presence of Younis and Misbah, he was the leading run-scorer last year with 1,198 runs in 11 Tests, including a first-ever triple hundred in a day-night Test against Windies in Dubai and a fighting double hundred against Australia in Melbourne. Also, before this knock, he had 342 runs in four Tests with two hundreds.
Pakistan’s plight might have been much worse had Azhar not scrambled to get fit, even taking an injection to his right knee which had been bothering him.
During the innings he also became the eighth batsmen to complete 5,000 Test runs — the fourth fastest in 61 Tests — behind Younis (10,099), Javed Miandad (8832) Inzamamul Haq (8829), Mohammad Yousuf (7530), Salim Malik (5768), Misbah (5222) and Zaheer Abbas (5062).
It was Azhar who allayed fears that Pakistan’s batsmen will struggle without the two retired greats. Pakistan’s solid opening stand of 114 between Shan Masood (59) and Sami Aslam (51) was broken after lunch and Azhar was adjudged leg before off Dilruwan Perera on naught by Nigel Llong, the umpire, but he successfully overturned the decision.
A faint edge onto the pads saved not only Azhar but also Pakistan because had it lost its Mr Consistent it would have given Sri Lanka the upper hand. Relieved, Azhar then put on a valuable 79 for the third wicket with Asad Shafiq to thwart the spinners.
Shafiq was disappointing, though, falling for a lazy shot to Rangana Herath for 39. Since his fighting 127 at Brisbane, Shafiq has only one fifty in ten innings, below his potential and what Pakistan needs from him.
Before Azhar came into his own, Masood and Aslam were solid. It seemed the confidence given to them by Mickey Arthur, the head coach, and Sarfraz Ahmed, the captain, inspired them. Unfortunately, they missed out on converting their knocks into hundreds, with Aslam scoring his seventh half-century and Masood making his third.
Sri Lanka’s pace bowlers bowled better than Pakistan’s, with Nuwan Pradeep generating reverse swing with the second new ball and Suranga Lakmal being accurate. Much will depend on Azhar and Sarfraz if Pakistan hope to take a big lead.