Azam, Alam lead Pakistan's recovery on first day

Babar Azam and Fawad Alam steadied Pakistan after early losses
August 20, 2021

Pakistan 212 for 4 (Azam 75, Alam 76*, Roach 3-49) v West Indies

The first four overs set Pakistan back significantly, but the day was defined by a behemoth of a partnership between Babar Azam and Fawad Alam. Under blisteringly hostile conditions for at least the first two sessions that saw no fewer than three players forced off the field, the duo put together a 158-run stand to drag Pakistan from the depths into a position of clear dominance.

They were forced together after Kemar Roach and Jayden Seales scythed through Pakistan's embattled top order to leave them three wickets down for two runs, but the attritional rebuild means it has been Pakistan's day. Alam is still unbeaten, but cramps forced him off to bring his stand with Azam to an end and while the Pakistan captain fell soon after, those were the only four wickets West Indies managed as Pakistan put on 212 on the day.

Winning the toss, Kraigg Brathwaite had little hesitation putting Pakistan in to bat, and inside ten minutes, it became apparent why. Abid Ali lasted just three deliveries, pushing - without real footwork and with disappointing familiarity - at one from Roach around the fourth stump line, edging to Jermaine Blackwood in the slips. Azhar Ali became Roach's next victim, falling for a duck in similar style, with the ball kissing the outside edge and leaving the secure Joshua Da Silva to do the rest.

Seales piled on the misery for Pakistan, inducing the hapless Imran Butt into a forward defensive prod that, on review, was shown to have tickled the outside edge. Aside from Irfan Pathan's famous first-over hat-trick at Karachi, this would be Pakistan's joint-worst Test match start in history.

If that represented rock bottom, Azam and Alam used it as a solid enough foundation to begin the rebuild. Both looked vulnerable against an irrepressible seam bowling display from Seales and Roach early on, but the Pakistan captain looked to break out of it through aggression. A mistimed slash over point brought him his first runs, and from there, batting looked to have become easier for Pakistan's premier batter.

It was initially less straightforward for Alam. He looked particularly vulnerable around his off stump, Jason Holder and Roach in particular beating his outside edge a number of times, while three of his four boundaries came off thick edges to the slips. However, survival was the primary goal, and on that count, it was mission accomplished.

Azam looked just as comfortable in the middle session but much more sedate, especially once he brought up his half-century with a regal late cut behind backward point off Roach, a bowler he targeted in particular early on in the session. He was particular strong square of the wicket, as you might expect, and the slightest infraction when it came to line was a candidate for a put-away boundary.

Alam was significantly improved throughout the session, far more assured with his shot selection and more progressive in his approach. A struggling Alzarri Joseph, who came off on the stroke of tea, came in for particular punishment, with Alam bringing up his own half-century with a boundary off the 24-year old. Those fidgety outside edges that kept the slips interested were kept to a minimum, but Alam, too, would find himself suffering through the elements as the sun beat down. The weather seemed to be indiscriminate in the toll it was taking, and Da Silva was forced off the field for a spot of rehydration before the session was out.

The one-dimensional nature of West Indies attack - they don't have any left-arm pacers or full-time spinners - arguably saw their woes exacerbated as the Pakistan pair batted themselves into a nice rhythm. Brathwaite turned to Roston Chase for a short spell, only to see Pakistan targeting him, and on a sizzling day, the home side had to turn to their quicks once more.

By this point, it was hard to see who might bring West Indies a breakthrough, but Alam was beginning to cramp pretty much every delivery. The game's momentum took a beating, too, and there was a touch of the farcical cricket seems to produce more often than just about any other sport on the stroke of tea. Da Silva needed to be taken off with one ball to go in the session, but the regulations stipulated the over had to be completed before the players broke for tea. It meant there was a lengthy pause while his replacement got himself ready, all to send down a delivery before another 20-minute break.

Alam's woes continued post-tea, and it soon became apparent carrying on was impossible. The Jamaican sun had done what Brathwaite's men hadn't looked like achieving for nigh on five hours, and with life injected into the home side, Azam, the epitome of solidity, suddenly began to look susceptible.

Two balls after Roach whooshed past his outside edge with prodigious late swing, he found a juicy chunk of it which went to Holder at second slip. West Indies roared with excitement, sensing a swing in momentum; one way or another, they had removed both Azam and Alam. By now, the clouds were blocking out the sun, and with Mohammad Rizwan and Faheem Ashraf new at the crease, there was opportunity to wrestle back the momentum the hosts had lost through the afternoon.

It wouldn't quite happen that way. Ashraf is a genuine middle-order batsman since his return to the Test side in December; he averages over 40 with the bat, while Rizwan's versatility has seen him enjoy a meteoric rise of his own. The over rate was poor, and stoppages for one reason or another became commonplace; at one point, the emergence of swarms of flies at the ground resulted in a lengthy pause as Rizwan tried to prise one out of Joseph's eyes. The intensity had begun to bleed out of the contest, and as the light began to worsen, West Indies were forced into bowling spin from both ends.

Nkrumah Bonner, who Brathwaite turned to, is no Sonny Ramadhin; in truth, he was no Roston Chase either. Sending down three no-balls in the only over he bowled, it appeared everyone had had enough, and a day that began explosively ended - after just 74 overs - with a bit of a whimper.

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