Pakistan seized control of the third Test against England at Edgbaston today, as Azhar Ali went to his 10th Test century after sharing a stand of 181 with Sami Aslam.
Having bowled England out for 297, the tourists ended day two on 257 for 3. Azhar was dismissed from the final ball of the day with Sami run out for 82 earlier in the evening session.
It was a day to forget for England as, having taken a wicket in the first over, they went wicketless for the remainder of the next two sessions – dropping two catches – and, despite two wickets after tea, now face a battle to limit Pakistan’s seemingly inevitable first innings lead.
On what was ultimately a day of frustration, England got off to the ideal start when James Anderson removed Mohammad Hafeez (0) in the first over – the opener slashing a wide long hop straight to Gary Ballance at backward point.
That was as good as it got though for England and Anderson, as Sami playing in just his third Test match and Azhar began to chip away at the hosts’ first innings total.
With a run rate of around two and a half per over, Pakistan’s progress was slow but steady on a pitch that offered little for the bowlers, who were perhaps guilty of not forcing the batsmen to play enough.
Sami and Azhar were able to further frustrate England with a number of sharp singles, dropping the ball either side of the wicket and scampering through.
They reached lunch well placed at 72 for 1 but that should have been as far as the partnership went as Anderson enticed Azhar into a drive and found the edge. The ball reached Joe Root at second slip at a good height but, moving to his left, he was unable to cling on.
It was to prove a costly drop and Azhar reached his fifty soon afterwards, Pakistan’s 100 coming up in the same over.
Sami was not far behind his more experienced partner in going to his half-century, the first of his Test career, and as the tea interval approached both batsmen began to show more positive intent.
That was almost Azhar’s undoing, though, as he advanced down the track and smashed a return catch to Moeen Ali, the ball bursting through the off-spinner’s hands as he attempted to snare a difficult chance above his head.
Resuming after tea on 154 for 1, Sami and Azhar continued to make England toil before a rare moment of misjudgement from the latter brought the 181-run stand to an end. The Pakistan No 3 dropped the ball into the offside and called Sami through, James Vince was alert to it on this occasion though and, advancing from cover, threw the stumps down with the batsmen well short of his ground.
With Sami departed for a well-made 82, Azhar did not dwell on his part in the 20-year-old’s wicket and pushed on, reaching his century as he gloved a Stuart Broad delivery down the legside for four before getting down to perform the now obligatory press-up celebration.
England’s frustration was evident and it reached a head when Anderson reached two official warnings in an over for encroaching on the danger area during his follow through by umpire Bruce Oxenford.
The England bowler was less than impressed and made little attempt to hide that fact as he exchanged words with Oxenford at the end of the over.
An apology followed later in the session but Anderson could still face retrospective action from the match referee.
Pakistan, meanwhile, moved serenely on and, after a brief stoppage for rain, looked set to reach stumps for the loss of just two wickets.
However, after resisting all day, Azhar nibbled at a Chris Woakes ball just outside off and edged through to Alastair Cook at first slip.
Despite that late setback, Pakistan trail by just 40 runs heading into day three with Younis Khan 21 not out.