Azhar, Misbah And Ajmal Rescue Pakistan
Pakistan 249-9 (Azhar Ali 78) v
First Test, Harare, day one
Half-centuries from Azhar Ali and Misbah-ul-Haq and an unbeaten 49 from Saeed Ajmal helped rescue Pakistan from embarrassment on the first day of the first Test against Zimbabwe.
After losing the toss once again, Pakistan were asked to bat and soon slipped to 27 for three as Zimbabwe’s ever-changing new-ball attack built the pressure and was rewarded with wickets. Azhar and Misbah then effected a recovery with a stand of 93, but Misbah’s dismissal triggered a collapse of five for 62 before Ajmal and Junaid Khan rebuilt once again.
It was a further weakened Zimbabwe side that took to the field at Harare Sports Club. The hosts seem lose an average of a player a match due to payment disputes, with Sean Williams the man this time electing to make himself unavailable. Graeme Cremer is another who has been protesting against non-payment of match fees for some time, with Kyle Jarvis’ departure well-publicised. This match, of course, almost didn’t happen at all and the second Test still might not unless the payment dispute is resolved or the bulk of the players opt to give the board even more time.
Zimbabwe were also without their captain Brendan Taylor, although for much happier reasons - his partner is expecting the birth of their first child. Hamilton Masakadza led the side in his absence, with Sikandar Raza handed a Test debut.
Bear all this in mind and it is remarkable that Zimbabwe are able to compete at all with Pakistan; let alone have the better of large parts of day one with what must be almost a third-string eleven.
Tendai Chatara has proved something or a revelation since making his debut earlier this year against the West Indies and has got better with every match. It was he who took the first wicket; inducing man of the series from the ODIs Mohammad Hafeez - only declared fit at the eleventh hour - to poke a good-length delivery to Vusi Sibanda at second slip.
Tinashe Panyangara then had Khurram Manzoor trapped in front with a ball that jagged back alarmingly, and then bowled Younus Khan via the bat.
Misbah and Azhar stuck together until lunch to prevent further loss, with Pakistan reaching the break on 74 for three. They continued to prosper after the resumption, with Misbah first to his fifty off 83 balls.
Unfortunately, he became the first of two quick wickets for Prosper Utseya - whose steady off-spin was preferred to the inexperienced but more attacking leg-spin of Natsai Mushangwe. Misbah was caught well by Sibanda, while new batsman Asad Shafiq perished at the hands of Tino Mawoyo.
Wickets continued to fall around Azhar, who brought up an obdurate fifty off 128 balls. Adnan Akmal was next to go, bowled by Chatara for 18, with Abdur Rehman not lasting long before presenting Shingi Maskadza with another scalp. Azhar finally departed, also to Masakadza, for 78 to leave Pakistan tottering once again on 182 for eight.
Junaid Khan and Saeed Ajmal were the unlikely batting saviours for the visitors. They added 67 for the ninth-wicket, with Ajmal comfortably the aggressor in the partnership. He hit seven boundaries, including a six, on his way to 49 not out, with Junaid out to the last ball of the day for 17 to at least give the hosts a strong chance of wrapping things up quickly in the morning. Rahat Ali, preferred to Wahab Riaz to take the new ball alongside Junaid, will be the new batsman.
© Cricket World 2013