After New Zealand posted 274 runs in their first innings, centuries from Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq helped Pakistan reply with 348. By the end of play on day three, the Kiwis had been put under more pressure with their openers dismissed cheaply in the second innings.
Azhar was responsible for Pakistan’s strong position in the Test with a 134-run knock. Here, we take a closer look at the 33-year-old’s excellent innings.
RUNS SCORED: 134
BALLS FACED: 297
The Pakistan veteran arrived at the crease after the openers once again fell cheaply. With his side in a tricky spot, Azhar started cautiously and then forged a promising stand with Haris Sohail to repair the early damage. After the fall of Sohail, Azhar found an able partner in Asad Shafiq and together, the two added 201 runs that all but established Pakistan’s dominance in the Test.
That partnership saw Pakistan overtake New Zealand’s first innings total as Azhar brought up his 15th ton in the Test format. The right-hander’s marathon knock was brought to an end by New Zealand debutant Will Somerville with the sweep shot proving to be his downfall.
The right-hander was circumspect on day two after the openers had fallen cheaply. Soaking in the pressure, Azhar profited once the Kiwi bowlers lost their lines on Wednesday. Both he and Shafiq scored at more than four runs an over early on day three.
Using all his experience, Azhar, along with Shafiq, showed the rest of the batsmen how to bat on the surface. It was telling that Pakistan’s batting collapsed dramatically once the two departed.
His running between the wickets and calling was also markedly better than it had been in the first two Tests which shows that the Pakistan batsman has been trying to correct his mistakes.
While he was largely in control during his 297-ball stay at the crease, there were a few uncomfortable moments for Azhar. Most of them were brought on by New Zealand pacer Tim Southee who got the ball to shape away nicely.
Southee repeatedly drew edges from both Azhar and Shafiq but luckily for the two Pakistan batsmen, none of them flew into the hands of a waiting fielder.
Azhar’s dismissal was a soft one as he became Somerville’s maiden Test dismissal. It was an absolute harmless delivery from the New Zealand off-spinner and Azhar should have done better than casually sweeping it to short fine-leg.
VERDICT – 8/10
Following the retirements of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, Azhar became one of the pillars of Pakistan’s Test squad. However, the top-order batsman had failed to register a single ton since the retirements of the two Pakistan greats.
His first ton since the duo’s retirement could not have at a better time for Azhar given he has just recently announced his retirement from the ODI format. It is his first ton since the one against Windies in May last year and it has put Pakistan in an excellent position to push for a series clinching victory against the Kiwis.
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