Azhar ton fails to help Pakistan avoid follow-on

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Pakistan tour of England; England vs Pakistan, third Test at Ageas Bowl, Day 3; Pakistan 273 (Azhar Ali 141, Rizwan 53, Anderson 5-56) trail England 583 for 8 declared by 310 runs

If ever a situation called for a captain’s innings, this was it. England had declared at a humongous 583/8 and Pakistan were tottering at 27/3 at the close of play on Day 2, another 556 runs in arrears. 

With the top order back in the pavilion and Asad Shafique, Fawad Alam and Mohammad Rizwan the only regulation batters left to come, skipper Azhar Ali had to step up and lead from the front if Pakistan were to save the follow-on. And step up he did after a prolonged dry run with the willow. Although his unbeaten 141 was enough to silence his detractors who had been questioning his leadership and place in the side, it couldn’t take Pakistan past the follow-on mark.

Barring a counter-attacking 53 from Rizwan, his second straight 50-plus score after the heroic 72 in the second Test, he didn’t get much support from the other batters in his quest to spare Pakistan the ignominy of being asked to bat again.

Asad Shafique, who has also been facing increasing scrutiny around his batting form, fell for 5, tamely edging a delivery off Anderson that he could well have left alone. With another failure with the bat, one fears that he will struggle to make the playing XI in future assignments.

Azhar Ali
Azhar Ali and Mohammad Rizwan together added 138 runs before Chris Woakes dismissed Rizwan (Credits: Twitter/ICC)

Fawad, who was brought back into the Test squad after a prolonged 11-year spell in the doldrums, wasted another opportunity to prove his mettle at this level. He looked to have settled in and got a measure of the bowling when, on 21, a delivery from off-spinner Dom Bess took the shoulder of his blade was safely pouched by keeper Jos Buttler.

Rizwan joined Azhar with Pakistan at 75/5 and the two managed to stop the haemorrhage with a stand of 138 runs. The 28-year-old stumper seemed to have picked up where he left off in the truncated second Test, taking the bowlers on before he fell to a brilliant catch by Buttler off Chris Woakes.

The Warwickshire all-rounder bowled a delivery on his pads and he flicked it straight into the hands of a diving Buttler. His short but enterprising innings was laced with five hits to the fence and one over it.

Mohammad Rizwan- England vs Pakistan Test 2020
Mohammad Rizwan supported skipper Azhar Ali with a half-century, his second on the tour. (Credits: Twitter/ ICC)

Leg-spinner Yasir Shah then joined his skipper in the middle and hung around for 20, with a couple of boundaries, before England captain Joe Root held on to a sharp chance off Broad. What followed was a procession as the bowlers – Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Abbas and Naseem Shah – made a quick exit, leaving Azhar stranded at 141.

Anderson, who recorded his 29th five-wicket haul, could have had more as he had three catches dropped off his bowling. While Rory Burns and Zak Crawley shelled regulation catches under fading light, Broad dropped one offered by Abbas in the outfield. Having failed to latch on to the chance, Broad scored a direct hit finding Abbas short off his crease.

Anderson was frustratingly left just two shy of 600 Test wickets, which will put him in an exclusive club comprising Lankan spin wizard Muttiah Muralidharan with 800 Test scalps, Australian spin King Shane Warne with 708 wickets and Indian leg-spin great Anil Kumble with 619 wickets.

With England enforcing the follow-on, Pakistan stares at a tough ask on Day 4 to erase the deficit and make Joe Root’s men bat again.

With wet weather forecast on Day 5, England will look to bowl out Pakistan in the better part of three sessions on the fourth day. Conversely, Azhar Ali’s men will hope for a determined batting effort and try taking the match into the fifth day. 

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