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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Azhar 50 & Younis' century puts Pakistan in control

Close Pakistan 99 and 222 for 2 (Younis 115*, Azhar 75*) lead England 141 (Strauss 56, Rehman 5-40) by 180 runs

Younis Khan acknowledges applause for his century, Pakistan v England, 3rd Test, Dubai, February 4, 2012
Younis Khan scored the first century of this series to put Pakistan in the driving seat in the third Test © Getty Images
The first hundred of this Test series was a long time in coming but it was well worth the wait. It went to Younis Khan. His enduring talent has again lifted Pakistan's expectations that they can achieve their first whitewash in a Test series against England.
When Younis came to the crease shortly before lunch on the second day, he was out of form, 22 wickets had fallen for 268 runs and batsmen on both sides were in mental turmoil over a record number of lbw decisions in a three-Test series. Not another wicket fell all day.
By the close, Younis had 115, his third-wicket stand with Azhar Ali was worth 194 in 72 overs and Pakistan's lead was 180. Some Pakistan fans held aloft a banner stating that Pakistan's target was to be the No. 1 Test side in the world. England can confirm it is an uncomfortable place to be.
Whenever mutterings are heard that his Test career is nearing an end, Younis comes up with something special. England tried to bowl straight, seeking to add to the 37 lbws in the series (the record in any length of series is 43) but the pitch was slow and the sound of ball against pad was conspicuous by its absence as Younis worked the ball serenely through the leg side.
It is only two months since Younis took an unbeaten double hundred off Bangladesh in Chittagong and his serenity flooded back. Both he and Azhar, whose restrained unbeaten 75 again identified him as a talent in the making, read the line confidently, their footwork was crisp and on the rare occasions Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann matched the turn found by Pakistan's left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman, they had the skill to adjust to the ball off the pitch.
England imagined they might have dismissed Azhar lbw, on 70, just before the close when Swann found turn around leg stump. Umpire Simon Taufel said no, England reviewed, more in hope than expectation, but to the consternation of the fielding side Hawk-Eye showed the ball going too high. Pakistan's lead was 168 and England had not got the break they desperately needed. Andrew Strauss, an England captain with no time to waste, even took the new ball two overs before the close.
Younis' second 50 took 60 balls and changed the complexion of the match. His gathering confidence was illustrated when he twice reverse-swept Swann as England's spinners resorted to bowling into the rough outside leg stump. Two short balls from Panesar helped him through the 90s. When he swept Panesar to reach his 20th Test hundred, two greats of India's past, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, were moved to rise from their seats in the VIP area and applaud.
But the incident that will most trouble England was one of the rare balls Younis missed: a delivery from Panesar that pitched on middle, dislodged a piece of turf as it spun past the outside edge, and cracked Anderson on the left shoulder at first slip. This is a dry pitch and it can be expected to turn extravagantly as the match progresses.
It all possessed a different feel to the pre-lunch session. Six more wickets tumbled on the second morning, with England scraping a first-innings lead of 42 and then removing Pakistan's openers. Taufeeq Umar's technical frailties were again evident as James Anderson bowled one from wide on the crease to have him caught by Strauss at first slip. Mohammad Hafeez, after striking Panesar cleanly for a straight six, fell lbw to an over-ambitious sweep.
England's batting frailties are now so extreme that their average of 17.84 runs per wicket is currently lower than in any completed series since the 19th century, an era when the roller was probably pulled by a horse, if they could find a horse, and the art of groundsmanship extended to little more than pushing the stumps in.
England began the series fretting about the mysterious spin bowling of Saeed Ajmal but they are ending it baffled by the conventional approach of Rehman, who took five wickets for the second successive innings as Pakistan restricted England's first-innings lead. This canny left-arm spinner, enjoying unforeseen riches in his late-blooming career, had performed the sajda on the outfield in Abu Dhabi when he took five Test wickets in an innings for the first time. Once again he fell to his knees.
England, resuming on 104 for 6, lasted 12 overs. Anderson, the night-watchman, propped forward to the last ball of the first over and was bowled through the gate. It was the sort of respectable, turning delivery Rehman has produced on countless occasions and suddenly it looked unplayable.
Stuart Broad hinted at positive intent but he was lbw to Ajmal after Pakistan turned to DRS to overturn Steve Davis' not-out decision. Broad was straight back to the laptop, analysing his dismissal, seeking answers. Another centimetre and he would have been outside the line. Umpires would never give anybody out on such small margins; technology does.
Andrew Strauss' prolonged resistance ended at eight-down, to his most adventurous shot. He had extended his overnight 41 to 56 when he came down the pitch to hit Rehman over the legside and was stumped by Adnan Akmal.

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