Azhar Ali was calm and composed……
When Pakistan toured England in 2016, they were a different team. Mohammad Amir was making a comeback post his five-year suspension from international cricket, Pakistan still had their senior batsmen Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan and by the end of the tour, they had become the first Pakistani side to not lose a Test series on the English soil since 2001. Their batting pillars were Younis and Misbah, who scored 340 and 282 runs respectively.
In the last two years, Pakistan have won the ICC Champions Trophy in England in 2017 and drawn a Test series in 2016. In both those occasions, Pakistan’s top-order batsman Azhar Ali was in a good touch. Although he wasn’t as good as Younis and Misbah in the Test series in 2016, he still had managed to score 295 runs at an average of 42.14. Two years later, now when Pakistan are again in England, they are without their pillars and that leaves their next senior batsman Ali responsible for the majority of the run scoring. Out of both the teams, Ali is the second highest-ranked Test batsman among all the batsmen after Joe Root. When Ali arrived at Lord’s in 2016, he averaged 43.37 and in the next two years his average has gone up to 45.88.
Prior to the two-Test series, Ali was already under pressure to score runs. The last time he had registered his Test score in triple digits was over a year back, which was against West Indies at Roseau. When Pakistan’s tour of England and Ireland had begun, they had played two warm-up matches before the one-off Test against Ireland in Dublin. Ali only had scores of 15, 9 and 10 in the tour games and things didn’t get any better for him in the Dublin Test, where he registered only knocks of 4 and 2.
However, it was a sigh of relief for both Ali and Pakistan when the former scored a 127-ball 73 in over three hours at Grace Road against Leicestershire. In the same match, first-timer Fakhar Zaman also scored 70-plus runs but knowing Ali’s experience he certainly was going to get a green signal ahead of Zaman. Ahead of the tour, Ali had mentioned that Pakistan were looking to play attacking cricket, with both bat and ball. They had picked five bowlers and were aiming to bag 20 wickets in the match. Pakistan clinched their first 10 wickets when they bowled England out cheaply for 184.
England have been playing Tests in the month of May for 18 years now and they have lost only two Tests. But, they have never lost a Lord’s Test in May and this particular record went into the danger zone after Pakistan ended Day two of their ongoing opening Test at the Lord’s with a healthy lead of 166 runs. Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Abbas – the two Mohammads who troubled the English batsmen on the first day, will resume Pakistan’s innings on the third day.
Lord’s was the same venue where Ali had made his Test debut eight years back. He had scored 16 and 42 and 10 years fast forward, he already has 5,000-plus runs and has been a regular face in the Pakistan Test. Apart from 2013, Ali has performed well in rest of the years. There were four big partnerships in Pakistan’s innings in the ongoing Lord’s Test and out of which, Ali was a part of two.
Azhar Ali is so damn good. Seems to score wherever he goes, wherever he bats in the order. A handy habit.
Will never get my head round the Pakistan fans that boo and chastise him.
— Barny Read (@BarnabyRead) May 25, 2018
Earlier on the second day, it was Ali was the architect of Pakistan’s innings in the first session. He registered crucial partnerships worth 75 and 32 with Haris Sohail and Asad Shafiq respectively. However, both came to an end as the touring team went into Lunch at 136 for 3, still 48 shy of England’s first innings total. The first session was more of a see-saw for the hosts, as they took a minimum of an hour to pick a wicket in the first two breakthroughs they had made at that time. Meanwhile, Pakistan batsmen had added 86 runs more to their overnight total of 50.
Although Pakistan took advantage of England’s shabby performance, both with the ball and on the field spilling as many as four catches, Ali and other batsmen did a great job for Pakistan. It will be interesting to watch if the hosts can make a comeback in this Test or not.