Pakistan declare on 579 after Azhar's 302*

Innings Pakistan 579 for 3 dec (Azhar 302*, Aslam 90, Bishoo 2-125) v West Indies
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Azhar Ali cruised past 250 by dinner on the second day © Getty Images

Confronted with bowling that was toothless at best and ragged at worst, Azhar Ali marched to 302 not out – his first Test triple-century – to anchor Pakistan’s mammoth first innings total of 579 for 3 declared. He was well supported, first by Asad Shafiq and then by debutant Babar Azam, before Misbah-ul-Haq played an attacking cameo to give his side quick runs leading into their declaration.

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 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.

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, including a full-blooded sweep that failed to make contact with a flighted delivery from Devendra Bishoo, 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 an increasingly deflated West Indies side. Azam came in and settled in 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 only their second breakthrough of the day.

West Indies had their moments, but were not able to capitalise on them. Bishoo had dropped short frequently in the first session. Immediately after dismissing Shafiq, his bowling perked up – temporarily. He beat Azam with a beautifully flighted ball and found the batsman’s outside edge in the next over, only for the ball to fly to the right of slip. Frustratingly, he dropped short again the very next ball and was cut for another boundary. A few overs later, Chase got Azhar to nick to slip, where Jermaine Blackwood spilled a sharp chance that should have been taken.

Like on the first day, West Indies misused their reviews. Shannon Gabriel clocked up impressive speeds in the first over of the day. His fifth ball, bowled at 147 kph, seamed into Shafiq and 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.

When West Indies did opt for a review – on the last ball of the 131st over – they were left red-faced and wishing they hadn’t. 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 by Azhar.

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’s spell after tea was probably the worst of the lot as he struggled badly for line and length and bowled three big no-balls – and at least three more that were not called.

When Azhar Ali pulled Holder to deep backward square for what should have been two, the substitute fielder swooped on it and flicked it to Miguel Cummins, who had run round to back up his effort. But the two men clearly hadn’t read each other’s intentions, and the ball went past a wrong-footed Cummins and over the boundary for four “overthrows” that took Azhar to 250. It was a moment of triumph for Azhar and embarrassing fecklessness for West Indies. In other words, it neatly encapsulated the match so far.

Sirish Raghavan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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