Azhar Ali's unbeaten ton gives Pakistan hope in Southampton Test
Captain's 141 helps visitors post 273 but England gain 310-run lead after day three
With Pakistan heading towards an inevitable series defeat and the position hopeless, it was pushing it to say this was a moment of glory for Azhar Ali.
He is not universally favoured as captain. Far from it. His form had been indifferent. He had scored 72 from his previous five Test innings combined, which included two ducks.
He had been powerless to stop England amassing a mammoth total of 583-8 in the first innings.
With everything going against him, he at least bought himself some respite, and a reminder for the doubters that he can play a bit after all.
Pakistan’s captain scored his 17th Test century, as he offered proud resistance against England’s on-song pace attack on another gloomy day in Southampton.
With inclement weather forecast to play havoc with the remaining two days of the third lockdown Test between England and Pakistan, his effort may yet have been enough to force a draw in this match.
At the start of the day, it had appeared as though the story of the day was going to be about 600 for an Englishman, rather than a hundred for a Pakistani.
James Anderson had started this Test match with 593 Test wickets. Seven in the match, to become the first fast bowler to 600 in Tests, was certainly within his compass.
The way he started, it seemed as though he was in a rush to get them all in one go. He took the first three wickets to fall as the beleaguered tourists endured a torrid time on the evening of day two.
Then he was straight back into his work the following morning, as he had Asad Shafiq caught by Joe Root in the slips.
At 30-4, it felt like all that stood between the hosts and an early win was the weather. Play was twice halted for rain in the morning session.
For the second Test running, though, Mohammed Rizwan provided some backbone in the Pakistan middle order. He joined his captain in a stand worth 138 for the sixth wicket.
If Azhar’s effort marked a return to form, then one of the opposition knew exactly how he felt.
A few weeks ago Jos Buttler must have felt just as put upon as Azhar. Run-shy, and with a series of listless displays with the gloves, Buttler’s position in the England team was in doubt.
Since then, he has shared in a partnership – with Chris Woakes, which won the opening Test – that will probably define the series.
Then in the first innings of this game he made his career best score, and batted for longer than he ever has done before.
Revived, he has hit a spectacular vein of form behind the timbers, too. First, he held a smart catch, up at the wicket to dismiss Fawad Alam off the off spin of Dom Bess.
Then he ended Rizwan’s rearguard with a fine diving catch down the leg side off the bowling of Woakes.
Rizwan, who made 53, has been earning rave reviews for his own glovework in this series. He might have appreciated his opposite number’s effort had it not brought about his own demise.
Shortly after, Buttler bettered that effort, this time diving further and higher to catch Shaheen Afridi one handed, again down the leg-side, off Stuart Broad.
For much of the afternoon session, it appeared as though England’s fielders were conspiring against Anderson.
Rory Burns and Zak Crawley put down simple catches in the slips, then his old friend Broad could have ended Azhar’s vigil with a simple chance at mid-on.
He grassed it, then somehow ran out Mohammed Abbas with a direct hit having disdainfully thrown the ball away in disappointment.
Anderson seemed ready to erupt, yet kept it together long enough to end Pakistan’s innings by dismissing Naseem Shah, to complete his 29th five-wicket haul in Tests.
That left Azhar on 141 not out, and Pakistan 310 runs behind. England enforced the follow on, went straight back out, only for the umpires to call a halt due to bad light as soon as they made it to the crease.
Published: August 23, 2020 10:40 PM