England sense lead despite three Pakistan centurions in first Test

Published December 3, 2022
<p>Pakistan’s captain Babar Azam (L) celebrates with teammate Saud Shakeel after scoring half century (50 runs) during the third day of the first cricket Test match between Pakistan and England at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, in Rawalpindi on December 3, 2022. — AFP</p>

Pakistan’s captain Babar Azam (L) celebrates with teammate Saud Shakeel after scoring half century (50 runs) during the third day of the first cricket Test match between Pakistan and England at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, in Rawalpindi on December 3, 2022. — AFP

<p>Pakistan’s Imam-ul-Haq (2R) celebrates after scoring a century (100 runs) as England’s captain Ben Stokes (L) looks on during the third day of the first Test match between Pakistan and England at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium on Saturday. — AFP</p>

Pakistan’s Imam-ul-Haq (2R) celebrates after scoring a century (100 runs) as England’s captain Ben Stokes (L) looks on during the third day of the first Test match between Pakistan and England at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium on Saturday. — AFP

England found ways to take wickets and sensed a good lead despite hundreds from three Pakistan players on the third day of the opening Test in Rawalpindi Saturday.

Pakistan were 499-7 at stumps with Agha Salman (10) and Zahid Mahmood (yet to score) at the crease — still trailing England’s mammoth 657 first innings total by 158 runs, with three wickets in hand.

On a see-saw day, Pakistan were lifted by centuries from skipper Babar Azam (136), and openers Imamul Haq (121) and Abdullah Shafique (114).

But England took three wickets in the first session, none in the second and three again before the close to put themselves in a better position.

If the tourists can force a 100-plus lead and score as they did in the first innings, they can still force a win on a Rawalpindi Stadium pitch which has given little help to the bowlers.

Spinners Will Jacks (3-132) and Jack Leach (2-160) shared the early spoils, while the pace duo of James Anderson and Ollie Robinson took a wicket each.

Jacks said Azam’s wicket gave England an edge.

“That wicket was almost the game-changing moment,” he said.

“It was a great day for us — seven wickets in the day — and as the match goes on, the pitch will get more turn.”

Saturday’s final session belonged to Azam, who hit 19 boundaries and a six for his first Test hundred against England.

He cracked a boundary towards cover off opposition skipper Ben Stokes to reach his eighth career Test century, this coming off 126 balls and studded with 13 boundaries.

Jacks forced a miscued drive off Azam to get him caught at point, and in the next over Mohammad Rizwan played straight into the hands of mid-wicket off Anderson.

Debutant Saud Shakil, who added 123 for the fourth wicket with Azam, was caught behind off Robinson soon after the tea interval.

Haq admitted Pakistan can still come under pressure.

“There is wear and tear in the pitch, it’s keeping slightly low and will definitely change in the last two days,” he said.

“But we have encountered such situations before so a lot will depend on the first session tomorrow.”

Earlier, Azam upped the tempo in the second session after Pakistan lost centurions Shafique (114), Haq (121) and Azhar Ali (27) before lunch.

The centuries by Shafique and Haq meant for the first time in 146 years of Test cricket the openers of both teams reached three figures in the first innings.

Their 225-run opening stand — a Pakistan record against England — is also the first time in Test history that two 200-plus opening partnerships were made, following Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett’s 233-run partnership for the visitors.

Pakistan started the day on 181 without loss and Shafique, 89 overnight, was the first to three figures with a sharp single off Joe Root.

Haq, who started the session on 90, followed with a boundary off the same bowler to complete his century.

They both now have three Test centuries and successive hundreds at the venue, having also reached three figures against Australia in March this year.

Crawley (122), Duckett (107), Ollie Pope (108) and Harry Brook (153) scored centuries for England in their first innings.

The next two Tests are in Multan (December 9-13) and Karachi (December 17-21).

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