Pakistan’s old shoes in Azhar Ali and Fawad Alam had a point to prove. The former had not registered a substantial score in this high profile series. On the other hand, Fawad Alam wilted in his first Test outing in 11 years and was fortunate enough to get another chance at the top level. With Asad Shafiq perishing within the first hour and Pakistan a world adrift of escaping the follow-on, Alam and Ali were responsible for putting to use their vast experience.
If not anything monumental, Fawad Alam and Azhar Ali displayed resilience and precisely what Pakistan when four down and needing over 500 to scale. They survived for 143 deliveries together, which was no mean feat, given the favourable bowling conditions for the four-pronged pace attack and assist for Dom Bess too. It was the turn and extra bounce from Bess that removed Alam after a 74-ball stay with an unconventional stance.
At 75-5, another set of capitulation loomed as the skipper at the other end valiantly kept the fight on. Perhaps, it was not an entirely grave thing that Alam departed as it brought the tourists’ best batsman at the crease, their keeper-batsman Mohammad Rizwan.
Rizwan’s nuggety knock of 72 under challenging circumstances and conditions in the last Test left people with little doubts in their minds that the doors would not open for Sarfaraz Ahmed anytime soon.
Enter Mohammad Rizwan and even for the defiant young man, the task was a herculean one. It was doubtful whether Pakistan would even make as much as Zak Crawley alone did. It indeed was distant, but Rizwan decided to march alongside his captain in the battle. Nevertheless, by lunch, the pair instilled a self-belief by putting on an unbeaten 83 for the sixth wicket.
Both Rizwan and Azhar survived the nips and swings of Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes, the turn, dip, and bounce from Bess, and the rockets from Jofra Archer. On the other hand, Anderson kept threatening at all times from the word-go.
What started as a day with massive pressure on Ali that only carried on, gradually progressed to a fifty through the flicks and sweeps. The 36-year old reached 6000 Test runs through a boundary and got to his half-century two overs later by clipping Archer for another through mid-wicket.
Mohammad Rizwan piles on for Pakistan:
Ali faced the spell of Anderson and Archer more confidently, taking the former for two boundaries through finesse and a disdainful cut. Before lunch, he sent two more to the fence off Woakes and Bess.
Rizwan did the job of hanging in there till lunch while also punishing the occasional loose balls, including taking the aggressive route to collect his first boundary. The 28-year old also successfully downplayed an 89 mph bouncer that hit him on the helmet.
After the break, Rizwan put on the attacking suit, carting Archer for two boundaries, none of which was streaky. Two overs later, he played a clever uppercut, lifting a short-pitched delivery over slips in the vacant area for another boundary off Archer.
Five overs later, when on 44, Rizwan’s bravado appeared. He danced down the track to loft Bess over long-off to reach his second successive fifty.
After two overs, it was Azhar Ali’s moment of reckoning, reaching three figures for the first time since 2017 overseas, getting there through a measured cover drive. Rizwan’s vigilance of 113 deliveries hardly deserved the dismissal it did, getting caught down the leg side for 53.
The wicket broke the 138-run stand and came for England right at the nick of time, introducing the tail, five overs before the availability of the second new ball. The partnership restored Pakistan’s pride but left the skipper to climb the steep mountain all alone. There was a lot to like about their partnership and indeed certain observations out of it.
The leader of the ship was not only playing for his team and it was a career-saving knock from him. Even as Joe Root has crafted only one noteworthy inning this season, the men around have made sure the ship does not sink when he fails.
Unfortunately, Azhar Ali does not have that option to work with and Pakistan’s skipper had to bore the brunt of their frailties throughout the crucial junctures in the series. Hence, the century was one of relief.
While his patient and an unbeaten knock of 141 was nowhere close in preventing the follow-on and Pakistan staying on the brink of another series defeat, Azhar Ali will fly out of England with reasonable respect. And possibly save his captaincy and spot as well with the knock.
It should have been Babar Azam joining hands with Azhar Ali, becoming the crisis man for Pakistan in the storm. And Mohammad Rizwan had to play the role of wagging with the tail. Indeed Babar needed to face 100 deliveries at least for the tailenders to keep their innings alive until day four.
Instead, the young and inexperienced Rizwan’s shoulders have become overburdened, which he has handled well above expectations. It was Pakistan’s figurehead and future meandering through choppy waters, but the latter has to ensure he does not take the Babar Azam route moving forward.