Azhar Ali teaches West Indies' bowlers a severe lesson
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Azhar Ali delivered a batting master class to reach an unbeaten 302 not out at the Dubal International Cricket Stadium Friday, becoming the fourth Pakistan player to score a Test triple hundred. His marathon 469-ball knock anchored Pakistan’s first-innings total of 579 for 3 declared, before West Indies moved to 69 for 1 in the 22 overs they had to face until stumps.
After having shared a 215-run opening stand with Sami Aslam on the first day, Azhar was well supported on the second day too, first by Asad Shafiq and then by debutant Babar Azam, before Misbah-ul-Haq played an attacking cameo leading into the declaration. Pakistan scored at well over 4 runs an over on day two, adding 300 runs in 65.3 overs as West Indies progressively fell to pieces with the ball and in the field.
Resuming the day on 146, Azhar was solid and assured right from the outset and displayed more of the lovely drives and powerful cuts and pulls that lit up the first day. He went into tea at 194, but got to his milestone within two balls of the resumption of play – a leg-side delivery from Shannon Gabriel was tucked fine for four, after which a wide one was cut past backward point for the four that took him past 200. A salute and a set of nine push-ups followed; by that stage, West Indies’ fielders looked too ragged to follow suit. It took Azhar only a further 112 balls to bring up his triple-ton, powering his side towards a declaration that put West Indies out of their misery.
Azhar and Shafiq had added 73 runs to the overnight total of 279 for 1, taking their second-wicket partnership to 137. The pair built on their solid, platform with relative ease, facing little pressure either from West Indies’ bowlers or from a pink ball that did not do much in the air. While Shafiq played the odd false shot, Azhar looked compact and sharp, quick to pounce on width and short balls. He greeted Roston Chase with successive lofted shots for four and six, and also played a number of assured sweep shots against both spinners.
The partnership ended when Shafiq drilled a return catch to Devendra Bishoo to depart for 67. That moment of success provided only fleeting relief for West Indies; Azam came in and settled down swiftly to provide capable support to Azhar. He glided his way to a half-century that seemed to come far too easily, before driving in the air straight to cover to give West Indies their second and last breakthrough of the day. Thereafter, Azhar and Misbah threw their bats around. They added 62 off 76 in a partnership that wasn’t particularly graceful – with a number of skied miscues – but served Pakistan’s purpose. Azhar brought up his triple-century in much the same manner as he had brought up his century, with a drive wide of mid-off for four, and on that jubilant note Pakistan declared.
West Indies had their moments, but were not able to capitalise on them. Bishoo found Azam’s outside edge early in his innings, only for the ball to fly to the right of slip. A few overs later, Chase got Azhar to nick to slip, where Jermaine Blackwood spilled a sharp chance that should have been taken.
A more judicious use of reviews would also have helped. Gabriel, who clocked up impressive speeds in the first over of the day, seamed one into Shafiq that clipped the top of his back pad on its way through to the wicketkeeper. The appeal, seemingly for a caught-behind, was turned down, but replays indicated that the ball would have gone on to hit enough of the top of middle for the batsman to be given lbw, if a review had been taken.
The review West Indies did opt for left them red-faced. Jason Holder bowled an indipping low full toss at Azhar, went up in appeal for lbw and reviewed the not-out decision, evidently believing that the ball had brushed pad before bat. Replays, however, showed that the ball had gone nowhere near the pad and had, in fact, been middled.
These errors paled in comparison with West Indies’ shoddy bowling and often-farcical fielding. Bishoo and Miguel Cummins released the early pressure that Gabriel and Holder had created. While Bishoo bowled a number of short balls and juicy half-volleys, Cummins repeatedly drifted onto the batsmen’s pads. Gabriel bowled a terrible spell after lunch in which he struggled badly for line and length and bowled three big no-balls – and at least another three that were not called.
In the closing stages of the day, Pakistan’s bowlers provided a contrast to West Indies’ effort. Sohail Khan and Mohammad Amir bowled a fuller length and got good shape on the new ball, while Yasir Shah got more grip and turn than the West Indies spinners had managed at any stage. He was rewarded with the wicket of Leon Johnson, whom he trapped in front for 15. But Kraigg Brathwaite and Darren Bravo then provided a reminder of how good the wicket still was, batting out the rest of the session in solid fashion. With a mountain still to climb, West Indies require much more solidity in the days ahead.