Stumps Pakistan 342 for 3 (Babar 143*, Shafiq 60*, Jayed 2-66) trail Bangladesh 233 (Mithun 63, Afridi 4-53) by 27 runs
Tests turn in one ball. For Bangladesh, that came in the third over after lunch. Just prior to the interval, they had dismissed Azhar Ali. Now, there was a gift for the taking from Babar Azam after he’d played the most un-Babar like shot.
A miscue after being lulled by Taijul Islam’s loop and flight. Ebadat Hossain wasn’t alert enough at mid-off; a clumsy run backwards to try and catch magnified his error in judgment even more. The catch went down with Babar on 3. Pakistan would’ve been 104 for 3. It wasn’t to be.
Babar went on to make 140 more and carried with him the promise of much more on Sunday, maybe even a maiden Test double. Pakistan ended the day 109 ahead; Asad Shafiq serenely batting on 60. His stand with Babar was worth 137, and with three full days still to go, you could sense where this was headed.
It wasn’t just Babar and Shafiq who had fun. Shan Masood continued his Test match rejuvenation by bringing up his third Test century, his second on the trot, to further deflate the visitors. Having seen Abid Ali fall early, slashing to the slips, Masood sussed up the conditions and then made merry once the bowlers lost their sting in the first half hour.
Masood sat back and punched off the backfoot through cover and point, the weight transfer allowing him to pierce gaps to perfection. For a batsman who appears to not take too many risks, his half-century off 54 balls, courtesy nine boundaries, was deceptively quick.
But he didn’t need to carry on batting in that gear right through, because Babar set shop after that early reprieve, batting in the kind of zone where he put not only the bad balls away but even the good ones. Like the on-drives or the whirring flick shots to length deliveries from outside off to bisect midwicket and mid-on.
For Bangladesh, Taijul kept toiling, looking to bowl into the rough created at the other end. But the surface was simply too good: little dust, no cracks, true bounce and little movement. Everything batsmen dream of while looking to set up Tests. Masood was perhaps caught in one such dream soon after getting to his century.
Having concentrated long and hard, shelving the free-flowing drives that he superbly played early for the hard grind after passing fifty, he was out driving to a harmless delivery that ought to have been put away. He played down the wrong line, nearly yorked himself by getting into a tangle as the ball snuck through the inside edge to hit the stumps. At that stage, Pakistan were 205 for 3, behind by 28 runs.
The wicket came literally out of nowhere, because until a few moments prior to his century, Bangladesh were so switched off that they didn’t even appeal for a ball that Masood nicked to Liton Das, the wicketkeeper, on 86 off Rubel Hossain. So the wicket was another opportunity for Bangladesh to try and crack open the middle order. Instead, they came out after tea and immediately allowed the game to drift by giving Shafiq easy singles that got Babar back on strike.
By then, Babar gave the impression that he was toying with the bowling, especially Taijul, hitting wherever he pleased. Take for instance a flighted delivery from Taijul. A length ball outside off, to which he stepped out to negate any turn and then, as if he was simply commanding the ball, using his wrists to flick it between midwicket and mid-on. Or the back-to-back flicks to length balls outside off to the midwicket fence of Abu Jayed.
This was a batsman every inch confident of what he was upto, far from the unusually ultra-aggressive self who threatened to hit out and get into trouble early in his innings. It took Babar a while to calm himself down after the reprieve, and for the Rawalpindi faithful who turned up on Saturday, it was worth the wait.
In the morning session, Bangladesh struck twice, both gifts to loose shots. Fresh off back-to-back tons in his first two Tests, Abid slashed at one early on, while Azhar fell in similar fashion shortly before lunch. But the 91-run partnership established Pakistan’s early advantage where they proved the biggest threat they faced was their own complacency against a toothless attack. The good passages for Bangladesh were eventually too far and few between, leaving the Test cold and quickly veering towards the prospect of there being only one winner in the Test.