An unbeaten 85 by Azhar Ali and 55 from Babar Azam put Pakistan in a solid position at 169 for 2 at stumps on a rain-shortened – only 69 overs of play was possible – first day of the third and final, and decisive, Test against West Indies at Windsor Park in Roseau on Wednesday (May 10).
Fresh from a workmanlike first-innings century despite defeat in the second Test, Azhar was again a model of composure in progressing towards another significant innings after over five hours at the crease during which he faced 219 deliveries, stroking two sixes and seven fours.
His confidence dented after enduring the indignity of a pair in that loss in Barbados, Azam was less assured at the start of his innings and needed a generous slice of luck to get to his second half-century of the series. Devendra Bishoo should have claimed his wicket but Azam, on 28, was let off by Shane Dowrich, the wicketkeeper, just as play resumed in the early afternoon following the first of two stoppages for a steady, persistent drizzle.
That lapse added to the increasing list of costly errors in the field for West Indies during this 2017 international season in the Caribbean even as the pair extended their second-wicket partnership to 120 when Azam eventually fell in a long final session, offering a simple catch to Kieran Powell at first slip off Alzarri Joseph.
Younis Khan, who together with Misbah-ul-Haq, is playing his farewell Test, will resume in partnership with Azhar on the second morning, weather permitting.
Further compounding the home side’s woes after Jason Holder won the toss and chose to field in heavily overcast conditions was the lack of potency of his prime opening bowler, Shannon Gabriel. Although economical, Gabriel could not recapture the hostility that wrecked Pakistan’s second innings on the final day of the second Test in Barbados.
Sharing the new ball with Gabriel, Joseph was completely out of sorts in his first spell, prompting the introduction of Roston Chase’s offspin within the first hour’s play. That resulted in Pakistan’s only casualty of the morning. Shan Masood, playing his first match of the series in place of the indisposed Ahmed Shehzad, reached nine off 30 deliveries and prodded indecisively at a delivery from Chase for Holder to take the straightforward catch at second slip.
Apart from the recall of Masood, Hasan Ali made his debut at the expense of Shadab Khan, the legspinner who struggled in his maiden appearance in the second Test.
Pakistan have never won a Test series in the Caribbean on seven previous tours while West Indies are seeking a first Test series triumph in five years against a team ranked higher than them.