James Anderson's new-ball burst left Pakistan in tatters. In walked the captain, Azhar Ali, who himself has had an abject personal tour with whispers about his future and about his captaincy back home. But the skipper fought hard, showed courage, showed changed in tactics against the English attack and displayed mental toughness as he notched up his 17th Test century and third against England on day 3 of the third Test at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton.
Pakistan were 30 for 4 when Azhar walked in on Sunday morning. Anderson looked in fine form after running through the Pakistan top-order lineup picking all the four and marching towards his record 600th scalp. All he needed was to draw that front foot of Azhar in front of the stumps and strike that plumb, a dismissal that has hurt Azhar over his period of struggle which stretches back to 2018. Averaging only 25.87 in 32 innings during this period with two centuries and four fifties, Azhar has been dismissed eight times due to lbw, two of which happened this summer both by Chris Woakes and both in Manchester. And five off those times, Azhar did not even get to double digits.
But on Sunday, Azhar showed an immense amount of patience all through the first two sessions. There were edges, times when he was beaten, but he showed great courage and looked to play the ball late, hence scoring 45 runs through the square region and 25 more down the area behind the slip, while also improving on his footwork against spin and pace.
This was his first century in away from home in more than three years, 127 against West Indies in 2017 being his last, and his first ton as a captain.
And en route to the mark, Azhar also ticked off a personal milestone, amassing 6000 runs in Test cricket. He is now the fifth batsman Pakistan batsman to reach the mark after Yousuf Youhana, Younis Khan, Javed Miandad and Inzamam-ul-Haq. Azhar is however the slowest mong the five, having reached the milestone in his 151st innings, and the oldest as well.
Azhar also stitched a crucial 138-run stand with Mohammad Rizwan as Pakistan looked to revive from the early blow they received in the morning session.
Pakistan trail 0-1 in the series after losing the opener in Manchester earlier this month and are hence looking to draw the series with a win in Southampton.