Ton-up Younus and Azhar turn tide
Younus Khan and Azhar Ali shifted the course of a previously wicket-ridden third and final Test at Dubai with an unbroken 194-run partnership that spanned more than two sessions.
Younus more than doubled the combined tally of his previous three innings in this series with the first century of the rubber, the 34-year-old’s 20th in his 76th Test. Azhar, eight years his junior and playing in just his 21st five-day encounter, offered measured support with his second fifty in as many Tests.
The third-wicket duo left England needing at least 181 to win at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium with eight second-innings still to take unless a declaration reduces that. With three days to go, Misbah-ul-Haq will surely want his side to bat for some time yet.
Younus and Azhar’s blunting of the England attack on a still blameless pitch, one that has slowed appreciably since yesterday, was still remarkable given 22 wickets had fallen in less than four sessions when they joined forces five overs before lunch.
Sixteen of those were on a raucous first day and that regularity of breakthroughs continued this morning when England’s last four wickets added 37, aided by opening batsman Andrew Strauss becoming the first half-centurion of the game.
Once Pakistan’s openers had departed relatively cheaply, Strauss’ feat was eclipsed by Younus and Azhar, who closed on 115 and 75 respectively in a total of 222.
The tourists, picking up on 104 for six in reply to Pakistan’s paltry 99, batted for 12 overs this morning.
Nightwatchman James Anderson paid for attempting to drive against Abdur Rehman’s left-arm spin, bowled through through the gate in the first over. Stuart Broad lived dangerously, edging Saeed Ajmal short of slip and twice diving to make his ground from quick singles.
Strauss, who resumed on 41 and used his feet positively against the spinners, reached his fifty from 141 balls with his fifth four - again advancing and edging Rehman safely though third man.
Ajmal trapped Broad in front via a review, despite the left-hander’s large stride. Replays showed the ball hitting his front pad just in line and going on to middle stump.
Graeme Swann finely glanced Rehman off his hip for four but, later in the over, Strauss missed an attempted expansive straight shot to be stumped for 56.
The last four balls of the innings were eventful: Swann swept Ajmal to the rope, survived an lbw review - Pakistan’s last, slog-swept another four and perished for 16 at deep backward square attempting the same shot. That gave Ajmal figures of 3-59 from 23 overs to compliment Rehman’s 5-40 from 21.
Anderson and Broad combined to open with three maidens, but Mohammad Hafeez responded by leg-glancing and cover-driving fours in consecutive overs from the latter.
Anderson widened his angle of delivery to snare Taufeeq Umar who, having smashed a four through point in the same over, edged to Strauss at first slip.
In Monty Panesar’s second over, Hafeez lofted an imperious straight six and cut the left-arm spinner for four before missing an attempted sweep on 21 to herald the 11th lbw of the match.
From 28 for two, Younus and Azhar dug in either side of lunch - playing out four straight maidens shared by Broad and Panesar.
With Pakistan in front, Younus signalled a temporary change in gear by elegantly straight-driving Broad and glancing Swann for fours. Azhar followed suit with a maximum over long-off and a cut for four, off Panesar and Swann respectively.
The third-wicket duo retreated into their shells approaching their half-century alliance, which arrived when Younus turned Anderson for a single to deep square-leg.
Younus greeted Swann’s reintroduction by pulling the off-spinner for the first boundary in 20 overs. In Swann’s next, Azhar would have been run out for 32 had wicketkeeper Matt Prior hit the non-striker’s stumps from short cover after Younus turned down a quick single.
Younus picked up fours in three straight overs, two off part-time seamer Jonathan Trott with the second heralding his half-century shortly before tea.
Broad conceded a four to each batsmen early in the evening session, with the hundred alliance arriving between, but England soon dried up the boundaries. A single to midwicket off Broad took Azhar to 50 and his heaved four in the same direction was the first boundary for nine overs.
Younus’ reverse-swept four off Swann was the shot of the day and, not long after, he lifted the same bowler over the midwicket rope.
Panesar beat Younus’ outside edge with a delivery that, ominously for those still to bat, leaped towards Anderson at slip. Unperturbed, he smashed two leg-side fours from Panesar’s next over and soon swept the spinner for two to bring up his ton.
With that landmark achieved and Azhar’s still some way off, they resorted to consolidation in the closing overs. Azhar survived Swann’s lbw review on 70 due to height before the new ball was immediately taken for the last two overs.