Stubborn Azhar Ali puts Pakistan firmly in charge


England at last saw the back of Azhar Ali, but still need to pull off the second-highest run chase in their Test history to avoid a 3-0 whitewash against Pakistan.

Azhar's painstaking career-best 157 spanned six sessions and almost nine hours, before the number three was ninth out in Pakistan's 365 all out on the third evening at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

England were therefore left with more than six and a half sessions to make 324, on a wearing pitch which had already helped spinners Monty Panesar (five for 124) and Graeme Swann share eight wickets.

They made an acceptable start to their mission improbable, openers Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss reprising the roles played by their great antecedents Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe, the last and only other time England made so many to win - against Australia in Melbourne in 1929.

Cook and Strauss achieved a notable first for this series at least, when they surpassed their previous highest opening partnership of 27 on this disappointing tour - reaching 36 for none at the close.

They had a scrape each before stumps, Cook dropped by Taufeeq Umar off Umar Gul at third slip on four and Strauss rightly given not out on 14 - even after DRS - when he got his pad outside the line on impact against Mohammad Hafeez's off-spin.

Azhar's 442-ball vigil had been a triumph of unstinting concentration, shot selection and restraint - taking in a stand of 216 with Younus Khan (127), and containing just 10 fours and one six.

But Pakistan's last seven wickets then fell for only 34 runs in 21 overs, to give world number ones England a glimmer of hope that their batsmen might yet redeem themselves here.

Younus predicted yesterday that the tourists could still have a chance in this match, if their luck held. Equally, having watched Azhar's unflustered tour de force, it seemed they might collectively do worse than take their cue from him.

Azhar was in absolutely no hurry on the way to his second Test hundred and beyond, having previously reached exactly three figures on this same ground against Sri Lanka last year.

He eventually reached the milestone from the 319th ball he faced, with one of the most memorable shots of his long innings - a cut off Panesar for his fifth four.

He might have gone before his third-wicket partner Younus, for 84, but survived when Swann was just unable to hang on to a tough chance at second slip, very low to his left off the bowling of James Anderson.

Instead England's only breakthrough this morning came when Stuart Broad had Younus lbw on the front foot - DRS indicated the ball would have clipped the very top of middle-stump - after a five-hour stay which had helped to shut England out for 82 overs.

Younus was replaced by captain Misbah-ul-Haq, another batsman content to make the most of the ample time available in this well-progressed match.

He and Azhar duly added another 87, until Misbah fell lbw pushing forward to Panesar in late afternoon to kickstart the rush of wickets.

There was no DRS left for Asad Shafiq, sweeping at Panesar to become the 40th lbw victim of this head-scratching series, and Adnan Akmal was soon bowled for a duck by one that turned to beat his defence and hit off-stump.

Swann then scored his first successes, after 32 overs in vain.

Abdur Rehman and Saeed Ajmal were both caught at slip shortly before tea - and then Azhar fell bat-pad to the off-spinner, and Panesar completed the innings with yet another lbw to account for Gul.

Meanwhile, Tim Bresnan arrived in Dubai this afternoon in time to watch the final session here, having undergone fitness tests in Yorkshire on the elbow injury which ruled him out of the Test series.

England hope the seamer will be available for four one-day internationals and three Twenty20s against Pakistan, starting on February 13.


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