Pakistan 374 for 6 (Fawad 108*, Butt 91, Abid 60) lead Zimbabwe 176 by 198 runs
This might not have been the best advert for Test cricket, but it is precisely days like these Fawad Alam has come to relish. With Pakistan needing to press home an advantage following an under-par Zimbabwe first-innings total, the left-hander struck his fourth Test hundred – he has never been out for less than three figures once he reaches 50 – stretching Pakistan’s lead past 175, with four wickets still in hand.
Zimbabwe’s hapless bowlers tried to make the best of a bad situation, looking to claw a way out of the pit their batters had dug, and emerged from the day with a fair bit of credit. The run-scoring was never free, and breakthroughs fairly regular. Donald Tiripano was the pick of the bunch with three wickets; the removal of Babar Azam for his first golden duck a particular highlight.
At that point, Zimbabwe might have felt a surge of optimism about the direction of this game, but it was perhaps fitting that Alam was the man to extinguish those hopes. No stranger to slow, attritional cricket when it seems no one might be watching, he dug in and began to ensure no bowler would settle. The routine of bowlers going through entire overs – spells, even – without needing to make an effort to be economical began to be undone. He used his feet to manipulate the field, work singles, and punish any loose delivery, especially when the spinners bowled a shorter length. He got off the mark the same way he got to his half-century, with a four off a spinner. The first was a smart cut past backward point, the latter an effortless flick back past the bowler that pierced mid-off and mid-on perfectly.
Partners came and went either side of him, as they often tend to, but Fawad, as you’d expect, pushed ahead. Never in danger, never hassled, he moved past the half-century as if it hadn’t happened, more important goals and milestones on his mind. Towards the close of a day even the most ardent Test match enthusiasts might have found hard to remain glued to, he drove Tiripano back down the ground, a misfield gifting him the boundary that brought up this third century in in last four Tests.
The first session was an excruciatingly slow affair, with Pakistan trudging through 16 overs while adding just 13 to the overnight score, their intent conspicuous by its absence. Imran Butt, seven runs away from a half-century overnight, still hadn’t got to that mark. Azhar Ali’s arrival at the crease added some impetus, and towards the close of the session, the visitors finally looked like they were off and away.
Zimbabwe began the day with eight maidens in 14 overs, Blessing Muzarabani and Richard Ngarava giving little away. Abid Ali and Butt appeared keen to take their time settling in, as they had the previous day, but ended up finding themselves in a bit of a bind, unable to up the ante as the overs trickled by. Any thoughts of punishing poor deliveries were put to one side, and when Tendai Chisoro’s left-arm spin was introduced, the batters retreated ever further into their shells. It appeared to have the opposite effect of the one Pakistan might have desired, with Abid losing his fluency, nicking off to first slip with one of the few drives he attempted. Brendan Taylor juggled with the catch but ended up holding on.
Following the turgidity of the first session, the events of the second seemed positively slapdash. Pakistan raced along at more than three runs an over while Tiripano got himself on a hat-trick at one point. Butt fell nine runs short of a hundred and Azam lasted just one delivery.
Zimbabwe enjoyed the better of the first half hour of the middle session. Azhar was undone by the surprise of extra bounce from Tiripano, with gully pouching a straightforward catch. Much more notably, Azam, in his first away Test as captain, fell to the most transparent of traps. Mid-on was brought up close as Tiripano bowled straight, inducing a drive which went to Roy Kaia, stationed there for that purpose. Zimbabwe had suddenly removed the two most prolific batters in the side.
Butt at the other end chipped away more cautiously, eager to get to the three-figure mark he evidently had on his mind all session. It didn’t appear much would stop him, before Ngarave finally shaped one away that took his outside edge. It brought the left-armer his first Test wicket, denying Butt his first Test hundred in the process.
The partnership that followed between Mohammad Rizwan and Alam was perhaps the one that conclusively wrenched the game away from Zimbabwe. The wicketkeeper continued his rich vein of form, helping to add 107 before falling five short of a half-century, Muzarabani sending his stumps cartwheeling. Faheem Ashraf missed out, too, but that only gave Hasan Ali the chance to have some fun at the bowlers’ expense. They might have been humoured from time to time, but in truth, Pakistan haven’t really left the home side with a chance.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000