ormal service was resumed in Rawalpindi after a morning session that had hinted at a bowlers revival was followed up by a wicketless session and a Babar Azam century for Pakistan.
The combined score of both teams currently sits at 1068-13, as Pakistan finished the afternoon session on 411-3. England, to their credit, have been creative and consistent in their plans as they try desperately to pry out Pakistan’s batters, but they were met by Azam in fine form as he scored his eighth Test century.
Truth be told, Azam could have had both hands tied behind his back and he’d have still found a way to score runs on this Rawalpindi pitch. Azam is a class apart on home soil, let alone when conditions are as weighted as heavily in favour of the batter as they are here, and in his nine Test matches in Pakistan has an average of over 90.
Here he cantered along at ease. Occasionally stroking a boundary, often dropping and running and once launching Jack Leach for a six that took him to 50.
Such is his popularity here, that the wicket of Imam-ul-Haq that brought Azam to the crease was the loudest of the day. The fans that came today did, in part, come to watch Pakistan. But they also came for Azam.
As such, when runs came off the right-handers bat they were met with the biggest cheers of the match and contributed to a fine atmosphere in the afternoon sun.
Try as they might, England simply couldn’t force their way through the defences of either Azam nor his partner Saud Shakeel who is on debut.
Ben Stokes tried bumping them, Jimmy Anderson tried bowling with exceptionally straight fields and Leach, Root and Jacks all twirled and whirled away without reward.
It was a demoralising afternoon for England whose efforts weren’t met with the rewards they deserved. In the morning, they had successfully removed Abdullah Shafique, Imam-ul-Haq and Azhar Ali in the first session of the match that went to the fielding side.
The old ball had just begun to reverse swing and the new ball then claimed the wicket of Ali. Things were looking promising, but the reality of an in form Azam saw to it that any hopes they had of a breakthrough remained purely hypothetical.
Azam and Shakheel’s century partnership arrived in just under 30 overs. Shakeel batting at a sedate tempo whilst his captain found the going easier.
The Pakistan captain’s century arrived shortly before tea, his fifth on home soil and the seventh that has been scored in his match. On 99, chants of “Babar! Babar!” rained around the ground as the crescendo built towards the inevitable.
Azam cut Stokes through the offside and the ball raced away to the boundary. As 360 degrees of celebrations took place, Azam stood proudly in the middle and acknowledged all corners of the ground. Even in a contest where runs have flowed as easily as they have in this, it was a moment to savour.