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Azam 101, Shadab 52* as Pakistan recover to post 219

Innings Pakistan 219 for 9 (Azam 101, Shadab 52*, Gamage 4-57, Thisara 2-34) v Sri Lanka
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details

This was an innings that effectively boiled down to a contest between Sri Lanka and Babar Azam. It’s not yet clear who prevailed, but what we do know is thanks to the 23-year old batsman’s 7th ODI hundred – his most impressive by far – Pakistan’s bowlers have 219 to defend. Without him, and a gem of a contribution from legspinner Shadab Khan, who stuck around with Babar for a century partnership for the seventh wicket, they’d have been lucky to be defending half that. That was mainly down to a brilliant first 25 overs of bowling by Upul Tharanga’s men, who ensured Pakistan remained on the back foot for the remaining half.

Pakistan chose to bat first this time, and went into the game unchanged. So, apparently, did opener Ahmed Shehzad’s form, as he poked and scratched around while Fakhar Zaman also struggled for timing. The left-hander was the first to go, Lahiru Gamage angling the ball across Zaman, whose outside edge flew to a wide slip. Shehzad joined him three overs later, driving a wide delivery from Suranga Lakmal straight into point’s hands.

Lakmal and Gamage were once again tremendous with the new ball, getting slight movement that never let Pakistan feel comfortable. Mohammad Hafeez tried to break the slowly tightening shackles with a glorious six back over Gamage’s head, but edged the next ball – gently seaming away – to the keeper. The first Powerplay was over and Pakistan were 40 for 3.

Azam and Shoaib Malik tried to get Pakistan back on course like they had in the last match, but Malik fell to Thisara Perera in a soft manner; he tried to guide a ball that offered no room to third man, getting a faint edge that carried to wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella. With him being the man in form, it was a body blow to Pakistan’s chances of rebuilding the innings.

Sarfraz Ahmed hasn’t had much batting practice in the ODI format in the last few months, and it showed in the way he got out. Perera was the bowler once more, not that there was any magic about the delivery. It was a wide one that invited the drive, only for Sarfraz to drag it onto his stumps as Pakistan tottered at 79 for 5.

Azam continued to show signs of his quality, providing further fuel to the argument that amongst the weeds of future Pakistan batting talents, a real diamond has been unearthed. He held the innings together instead of letting the pressure of the situation get to him. Seemingly oblivious to whatever had caused the early departures of his fellow batsmen, he guided the lower order, establishing a magnificent partnership with Shadab.

The pair rotated the strike frequently and steered well clear of any risks, knowing that looking to improve the run rate was pointless if they didn’t bat out the full 50 overs. The pair – and Shadab played his full part – made Sri Lanka’s bowlers suddenly seem toothless, making them settle into a strategy of containment as crawled beyond the 200-mark.

There were no slog overs, no pinch hitting. Just mature, calm batsmanship by a pair whose combined age is less than that of recently-retired skipper Misbah-ul-Haq. The singles came free and easy, and twos were routinely pinched. If the opportunity presented itself, the occasional boundary was struck, too, but not if a risk had to be taken. Not until the first ball of the final over, anyway, when Babar tried to clear long-on with a shot he was too tired to play.

Hasan Ali provided some entertainment in the final over, hitting a six off his first ball before being run out the next delivery. Every little bit helped, though, as Pakistan surged to their final total of 219. In the end, Shadab’s half-century may have as much bearing on this game as his senior partner’s hundred. Because slowly, quietly, Pakistan have crept back into it.

Updated: October 16, 2017 — 3:03 pm
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