DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Red ball, white ball or pink; West Indies continue to find the going tough on their tour of the United Arab Emirates.
Today at the Dubai International Stadium, Windies captain Jason Holder lost the toss, Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq gleefully took first strike on the batting paradise and at the end of the day the hosts had marched serenely to 279 for 1.
Azhar Ali’s unbeaten century (146) and the 215-run opening stand that he strung together with Sami Aslam (90) were the highlights on the opening day of the day-night Test where both teams were getting their first taste of the pink ball at the Test level. After Aslam was bowled by off-spinner Roston Chase, Asad Shafiq (33) and Azhar capped off a perfect day for the hosts by sharing a valuable partnership of 64 to take them to the close of play.
With his broad defensive blade, Ali played with crispness and command for most part of the day. At the start of his innings, Azhar was occasionally unsettled by the pace duo of Shannon Gabriel and Miguel Cummins. In fact, the 31-year-old right-handed batsman played a half-hearted cut shot off Cummins in the 13th over, but Leon Johnson stationed at floater slip couldn’t hold onto the sharp chance.
However, barring that loose shot, Ali played a chanceless knock. He plotted Pakistan’s dominant position by blending eye-catching shots with deft placement to collect runs at will. As soon as West Indies’ spinners dragged the ball down on a slow pitch, Ali camped back to ruthlessly cut it to the fence square on the off-side. Incidentally, Ali also became the first cricketer to crack a hundred in a day-night Test.
Aslam, his partner at the other end, also showed ample evidence of his maturity in his fledgling Test career. The 20-year-old mainly looked to saunter down the track and, with an extension of his arms, lofted it straight down the ground. The crux of his batting effort was that he largely waited for the ball to come to him and played it under his eye-line. Aslam looked set to compose his maiden first century, before dragging a floater from Roston Chase onto his stumps.
Once Aslam was dislodged, Shafiq blended style and substance to remain unbeaten. With Pakistan still having nine wickets in hand, they would aim to bat only once in the match.
Cummins was the pick of the bowlers for West Indies. He tried to mix up his lengths and generated a hint of reverse swing. He even attempted to hide the ball from the batsman’s view. The pitch has already started to offer a bit of grip for the spinners, but the duo of Devendra Bishoo and Chase struggled to find the right length.
Gabriel bowled a few well-directed bouncers, including one that thudded into Aslam’s arm, but he couldn’t maintain the required discipline. Just before the dinner break, West Indies also placed their belief in the review after Aslam was adjudged not out off Bishoo, but the HawkEye suggested that it would miss the leg-stump.
Earlier, despite the Test being played under lights to revive public’s interest in the traditional format of the game, the players were greeted with largely empty stands. There was an inkling before the match commenced that pink-ball Test could bring in a dash of excitement and adventure, with fans flocking to the stadium, but it hasn’t been the case so far.
The cricket on display also wasn’t exactly of high standard. Pakistan won the toss and opted to bat on what looked like a typical Dubai track that would stay slow and low. Ali and Aslam showed the required defence and application to negotiate the early threat of Cummins.
Cummins wheeled away from the Dubai Sports City End and snapped his fingers to angle it across the left-handed Aslam. He even had an appeal for leg-before in the second over turned down against Aslam. However, on replays, it was clear that the ball had pitched outside the line of leg-stump. In what turned out to be a battle of wills and patience between Cummins and Aslam, the 20-year-old opener emerged the winner.
It was only when Brathwaite, Chase and Bishoo were introduced into the attack that Aslam decided to unfurl a volley of shots. With nimble feet and a still head, the left-handed batsman hustled the fielders by threading the gaps in the field.
The on-field umpires inspected the pink ball a couple of times, but it held up quite well. The umpires were also concerned about the light, but by and large the pink ball passed the test on Day 1.