DUBAI: Test cricket’s only second day-night Test, Pakistan’s historic 400th Test and it could not have been a better stage for Azhar Ali to steal the limelight.
His epic 302 not out left Pakistan in the pink of health in this first of three Tests and gives a picture of what to expect in the remaining two Tests.
After Pakistan’s mammoth 579-3 declared, West Indies lost only one wicket to the expected hunter leggie Yasir Shah before closing the day on 69-1.
Their first task will be to reach 380 to avoid the follow-on, a fight which they don’t seem to possibly stand.
West Indies will first look to avoid the follow-on and that will not be easy as the Dubai stadium pitch will have cracks on the third day which will make the pink ball to spin and make their stay at the pitch difficult.
But truly the day belonged to Azhar Ali. The 31-year-old has been one of the top batsmen after Younis and Misbah-ul-Haq in this team which has settled in the last six years.
Azhar showed his class through sublime form and left the West Indies attack clueless.
His 15-minute short of 11 hour stay at the crease was dominating although he gave two chances which the West Indies failed to grab, first on 17 and then on 190 and both the times the slip fielders gave him lifeline.
Right from the start of 215 with Sami Aslam, Azhar anchored the innings as he added 147 for the second wicket with Asad Shafiq (67) and 165 for the third with debutant Babar Azam who made an attractive 69.
His 23 boundaries were each well times and well executed and two sixes proved he had dominated the bowling right from the outset and although it was a flat pitch yet it needed serious concentration and resolve to play such a long innings.
That made Pakistan’s 400th Test, the second ever day-night test and his own 50th Test more memorable.
Shafiq and Azam also looked set for hundreds but somehow managed to get out, through their own faults and will rue a good chance of compiling a three-figure mark.
AFP adds: West Indies closed the second day on 69-1, still needing another 311 to avoid the follow-on with opener Kraigg Brathwaite (32) and Darren Bravo, on 14 not out, fighting at the crease.
They lost Leon Johnson leg-before in leg-spinner Yasir Shah’s second over for 15 but negotiated the pace-cum-spin attack well for 22 overs.
It was Ali who stole the limelight in this second ever day-night Test with a career-best score that was spread over 645 minutes of dominating batting, albeit on a flat Dubai stadium pitch.
It is only the third Test triple century against the West Indies, after Andy Sandham of England and late Pakistan great Hanif Mohammad, making Pakistan’s 400th Test, and his own 50th, a memorable occasion.
Ali smashed 23 boundaries and two sixes and put on 215 for the opening wicket with Sami Aslam (90), 147 for the second with Asad Shafiq (67) and 165 with Babar Azam (69) for the third.
Ali drove part-timer Jermaine Blackwood to the cover boundary to complete his triple century off 469 balls, pumped the air in jubiliation and then did Pakistan’s new style of salute and push-up celebrations.
Misbah, unbeaten on 29, signalled the declaration in an attempt to forge ahead in the three-match series.
Ali became the fourth Pakistan batsmen behind Hanif (337 vs West Indies in 1958), Inzamam-ul-Haq (329 vs New Zealand in 2002) and Younis Khan (313 vs Sri Lanka in 2009) to hit a triple hundred.
When on 278 Ali completed 4,000 Test runs, becoming the tenth Pakistani to reach the milestone in the five-day format.
Ali’s knock as well as Pakistan’s big total justified the decision to refine the seam on the pink ball used for this match after players complained of difficulties picking it up in the first-ever day-night Test between Australia and New Zealand at Adelaide last year.
A switch to a black seam, instead of the white and green one used at Adelaide, seemingly aided the batsmen considerably, with leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo (2-125) returning the best figures for a struggling West Indian attack.
Earlier, Ali was given another lifeline when Blackwood dropped a regulation catch off spinner Roston Chase in the slips with the Pakistani opener on 190.
Resuming at 279-1, Pakistan lost one wicket in the first session when Shafiq gave a return catch to Bishoo.
Ali continued from where he left off after resuming on 146, reaching his 150 with a single and then hitting a six and a boundary off Chase to send Pakistan past 350.
Soon after Ali reached his double century with a boundary off paceman Shannon Gabriel, his second after scoring 226 against Bangladesh in Dhaka last year.
This three-match series will continue in Abu Dhabi (October 21-25) and Sharjah (October 30-November 3).
Pakistan, first innings (overnight 279-1)
Sami Aslam b Chase 90
Azhar Ali not out 302
Asad Shafiq c and b Bishoo 67
Babar Azam c Holder b Bishoo 69
Misbah-ul-Haq not out 29
Extras: (b1, lb9, nb11, w1) 22
Total: (for three wkts; 155.3 overs dec) 579
Did no bat: Sarfraz Ahmed, Mohammad Nawaz, Yasir Shah, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, Sohail Khan
Fall of wickets: 1-215 (Aslam), 2-352 (Shafiq), 3-517 (Azam)
Bowling: Gabriel 22-3-99-0 (10nb), Cummins 25-2-99-0 (1w), Holder 25-4-73-0, Brathwaite 14-2-56-0, Bishoo 35-4-125-2, Chase 33-2-109-1, Blackwood 1.3-0-8-0
West Indies Ist innings
K. Brathwaite not out 32
L. Johnson lbw b Shah 15
D. Bravo not out 14
Extras: (b8) 8
Total: (for one wkt; 22 overs) 69
Did not bat: M. Samuels, J. Blackwood, R. Chase, S. Dowrich, J. Holder, D. Bishoo, M. Cummins, S. Gabriel
Umpires: Richard Illingworth (ENG) and Paul Reiffel (AUS)
Tv umpire: Martin Gough (ENG)
Match referee: Jeff Crowe (NZL)