Dubai: A resilient Harris Sohail and Babar Azam showed what it takes to grind down the opposition on Sunday.
In a display of effective but often tedious Test batsmanship, both hit centuries on the second day of their second Test against New Zealand to put their team in the driver’s seat at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
Just when it looked Pakistan may bat through the day and keep the declaration for first thing in the morning on Monday with some more runs on the board, skipper Sarfraz Ahmad went for it late in the day at 418 for five to put the Kiwi openers under the pump in falling light. However, Jeet Raval (17) and Tom Latham (5) held out well for nine overs to be unseparated at 24 without loss when play was called off two overs earlier due to insufficient light.
Sohail, who batted for over nine hours for his marathon 147 renewed his love affair with the venue, while Azam showed why he is being hailed as one of the most promising batting talents coming out of Pakistan in recent times by getting to his maiden Test hundred. This was Sohail’s second century on the trot in Dubai, coming at the back of his 110 against Australia last month.
For Pakistan cricket fans who may have often rued on the lack of characters like Misbah-ul Haq and Younis Khan to play those marathon innings any more, the pair’s efforts will be a heartening one.
Resuming at an overnight total of 207 for four, they stitched together a defiant 186-run partnership for the fifth wicket till Sohail finally fell after tea due to a rare lapse of concentration.
It was a bit of shrewd captaincy on part of Kane Williamson to bring on Ish Sodhi when Sohail was on 99, and the captain stationed himself at short mid wicket for any mistimed drive. After an anxious first over, Sohail finally pushed the leg spinner for a single at mid on to complete a patient and well-deserved century.
He looked a more confident batsman on the second morning and it lies to the credit of Sohail and Azam for not surrendering the initiative to their rivals. A cloud cover made the conditions little more challenging to bat on with both Trent Boult and Neil Wagner going flat out, but the pair held on and added 67 runs off 30 overs in the first session and another 82 runs in the second.
Azam, who can be a delight to watch when he gets going, was more positive of the two — taking on Sodhi over long on for a six and then a boundary in one over. The youngster was left agonisingly poised on
99 at tea with Pakistan breaking off at 356 for four — a score at which he was dismissed against Australia in only the last series.
However, such a slip-up did not happen this time as Azam for his first century after 16 Test matches when he turned Bolt on the square for a couple. “Yes it was a relief to finally get to the century,’’ said Azam, who was unbeaten at 127 from 263 deliveries (12 fours, two sixes).
Asked how did the partnership with Sohail pan out, Azam said: “Basically, we tried to complement each other during the partnership. If I did anything rash, he came and cautioned me and vice versa as our plan was to extend the stand for as long as possible.”
The lack of depth in Kiwi bowling attack was exposed during the day as Williamson tried rotating his bowlers in shorter spells and even brought himself on to give his regular bowlers a break during the day.
Boult bowled his heart out — using the crease as the wicket offered little assistance — only to be rewarded late in the day when he induced an edge from Sohail to be caught behind.
Pakistan Ist innings (overnight 207-4)
Imam-ul-Haq c Latham b De Grandhomme 9
Mohammad Hafeez c Latham b De Grandhomme 9
Azhar Ali run out 81
Haris Sohail c Watling b Boult 147
Asad Shafiq c Wagner b Patel 12
Babar Azam not out 127
Sarfraz Ahmed not out 30
Extras: (b 2, nb 1) 3
Total: (for five wkts; 167 overs) 418
Fall of wickets: 1-18 (Hafeez), 2-25 (Imam), 3-151 (Azhar), 4-174 (Shafiq), 5-360 (Sohail)
Bowling: Boult 34-7-106-1, Grandhomme 30-11-44-2, Wagner 37-12-63-0 (1nb), Patel 39-5-120-1, Sodhi 22-1-63-0, Williamson 5-0-20-0
New Zealand Ist innings
J. Raval not out 17
T. Latham not out 5
Extras: (lb 2) 2
Total: (for no loss; 9 overs) 24
Bowling: Abbas 2-0-8-0, Hasan 2-1-4-0, Hafeez 2-1-1-0, Yasir 2-0-9-0, Asif 1-1-0-0.