Azhar Ali approaches century as Pakistan build lead

Lunch Pakistan 281 and 159 for 5 (Azhar 80*, Nawaz 11*, Holder 3-26) lead West Indies 337 by 103 runs
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Azhar Ali hit some sweetly timed shots as he moved to 80 not out by lunch © Getty Images

Day four in Sharjah was the first day on West Indies’ UAE tour that they started from a position of strength. At stake was the chance to take something away from an otherwise winless tour, and claim their first victory in 14 Tests. They took another step in that direction with the wicket of Sarfraz Ahmed shortly after the drinks break, but Pakistan added 72 runs in the first session to extend their lead to 103 with five wickets remaining and leave the match evenly balanced by lunch.

Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder tested both overnight batsmen with bouncers in the first half an hour of play. While Azhar Ali ducked and swayed out of the way, Sarfraz pulled and cut. Azhar received a particularly stern examination, but held his own quite convincingly, except for an occasional tendency to leave his bat higher than ideal when ducking.

Both Sarfraz and Azhar began with positive intent, running fast between the wickets and punishing the bowlers when they erred in line or length. Sarfraz was particularly strong on the cut and the square drive, while Azhar brought out some of his trademark silken drives.

The two added 47 runs to the overnight total, extending their fifth-wicket stand to 86, before Sarfraz departed in loose fashion against the run of play. He shaped to cut when Devendra Bishoo dropped short, but the sharp turn away left him reaching for the ball, while losing his balance. In the event, he only managed to guide it to Darren Bravo at first slip. That left Pakistan 134 for 5, just 78 runs ahead.

Their progress slowed down thereafter, as Mohammad Nawaz struggled to score runs. It took him 15 balls to get off the mark and a further 14 to get his next runs. But he settled down thereafter and went into the break batting on 11 off 43, with Azhar, who had moved on to 80 off 204. It was the latter who held the key for Pakistan in their bid to set a challenging target.

Sirish Raghavan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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