Babar Azam looked very promising, but…..
Pakistan punched above their weight in the first innings of the ongoing Lord’s Test to find themselves in a commanding position. They have left no stones unturned in their preparations and tested England’s Achilles heels’ on the first two days of the Test. England were pretty mediocre in all the three departments and have been quite comfortably outplayed by Pakistan so far.
After derailing England for a modest total of 184 in the first innings, Pakistani batsmen came out fighting and did well to gain a healthy lead at the stumps on Day 2. Conditions were not conducive enough for batting, the seamers were getting enough help from the surface and English batsmen had a tough time at the crease.
Pakistan were well placed at 119 for 3 when Babar Azam took guard. This was a very delicate phase, another wicket here would have brought England back into the game while Pakistan needed a quiet 50-run partnership to calm the tide down. Asad Shafiq was looking good and this pair had to click. Pakistan only had Sarfraz Ahmed and Shadab Khan after this as recognised batsmen, this pair had to garner runs if Pakistan were eyeing to take a massive lead.
Azam was brimming with confidence, he looked good right from the outset at Lord’s and delivered when his side needed him to. He left deliveries outside off and was judging the ball perfectly. Azam has some issues with spin bowling, his eight dismissals in Test career so far is a testament to it. But looked comfortable in this innings and opened his account with an elegant cut off Dominic Bess.
Azam smashed as many as ten boundaries in his innings of an unbeaten 68. This was also his sixth Test fifty and second in a row. Azam looked in good touch in Ireland as well, where he scored a much-needed half-century in the second innings. Along with Shafiq, Azam steered Pakistan to a good position.
Wickets kept tumbling at one end, but Azam stood his ground. He looked solid like a rock; he did get a reprieve, but fortune does favour the brave. He deserved a century, but was unfortunate to have been injured while batting. He suffered a blow on his left-arm off the bowling of Ben Stokes while batting on 68. He was retired hurt after this and didn’t come out to bat till stumps on Day 2. Azam is expected to miss out the entire tour as the x-ray results later revealed a fracture in his forearm.
“We decided we are going to do a precautionary x-ray at the end of the day’s play. Unfortunately, the x-ray confirmed there was a fracture. The fracture’s in the forearm, it’s one of the two bones in the forearm in the distal third of the arm, just above the wrist. That’s why he couldn’t hold his bat properly,” said Pakistan’s physiotherapist
Azam’s injury is a huge blow to Pakistan as he has been the man in form; he has been in good touch in the shorter formats and there is no reason why he couldn’t have done it in the longest format as well. He may not have impressive numbers against the red ball, but his potential cannot be overlooked. He averages over 50 in both – ODIs and T20Is, and batted well in Ireland and Lord’s.
This could have been Azam’s series, this could have been the platform where he could have stamped his authority in Test cricket like he has done in shorter formats. But a mistimed injury denies him from achieving fruitful results. It’s a huge loss for Azam as well as Pakistan, hopefully, he recovers soon and bats in a similar rhythm.
The next question for Pakistan now will be Azam’s replacement, who will it be? The likely candidates in the squad are Fakhar Zaman, Usman Salahuddin and Sami Aslam. It will be interesting to see who gets a nod? Sami Aslam looks a likely candidate to get a go for the second Test and will certainly be under pressure.
As of now, Pakistan are far ahead in the game and will be looking to pile on the lead when the game resumes on Day 3. They have a solid chance of winning this encounter and taking a healthy lead, but should also remember they’ll be batting with a less batsman in the second innings.