By RIZWAN ALI
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AP) — Opener Imam-ul-Haq hit a memorable first test century on Friday and led Pakistan to a commanding 245-1 in its first home test against Australia in 24 years.
The left-hander closed out the opening day of the first test on 132 not out on a typically slow and grassless subcontinent wicket. Veteran Azhar Ali is also looking solid on 64 not out.
“It’s been a tough day for me, but that’s how you progress,” said Imam, who played his last test against Australia in December 2019 before returning Friday to face 271 balls in his marathon comeback innings.
“I was working hard and that’s it,” said Imam, who hit 15 fours and two sixes.
Australia might have missed a trick by opting to go with its three frontline fast bowlers, who hardly troubled the batters with both the new and old ball. Australia even used its three part-time spinners — Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head and Steve Smith — without any reward.
“In terms of selection, it’s like any other selection,” Australia’s interim head coach Andrew McDonald said. “I’d like to think that we can judge (selection) over five days and not in isolation of one day.”
Imam and Azhar denied Australia any hope of a breakthrough with the new ball in the 10 overs before stumps and stretched their second-wicket partnership to 140.
“I thought Pakistan played really well,” McDonald said.
The lone Australian specialist spinner, Nathan Lyon (1-87), got the only success of the day for the visitors when he dismissed Abdullah Shafique for 44 just before lunch, but not before a 105-run opening wicket stand with Imam.
Azhar and Imam then frustrated Australia for the entire two sessions by piling up another century stand.
Imam, playing in his 12th test but first in 27 months, showed grit throughout the day against fast bowlers and spinners after captain Babar Azam won the toss and elected to bat.
Fast bowlers Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and skipper Pat Cummins hardly troubled Pakistan’s top order in their short spells as they bowled 45 overs between them.
Lyon earlier extracted brief turn off the wicket with the new ball but both openers dominated the spinner by using their feet and raised a century stand.
Lyon was ineffective until he claimed Shafique in the penultimate over before lunch. Shafique got beaten in the flight and tried to heave the offspinner over long off. He was brilliantly caught by a running Cummins.
Imam survived a close call for lbw in Starc’s third over as the visitors went for an unsuccessful television review and the replays suggested the ball would have went over the stumps.
Imam raised his century in the last session when he drove Starc through the covers for his 13th boundary beside hitting two straight sixes against Lyon.
Shafique also had a close call but Head dropped a difficult chance at leg slip in Lyon’s second over, a ball after the spinner was smacked for a straight six.
Imam had earlier raised his half century by pulling Cummins to square leg boundary for a four and overtook his batting partner once Australia briefly applied the offspin of Head and Lyon.
It’s the first time Australia has played a test match in Pakistan since 1998 due to concerns over security from several attacks in Pakistan. It’s a three-match test series.
Australian players wore black armbands as a tribute to Australia’s former wicketkeeper great Rod Marsh, who died on Friday at age 74.
Pakistan’s Imam-ul-Haq celebrates after completing a century during the 1st day of first cricket test match between Pakistan and Australia at the Pindi Stadium in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Friday, March 4, 2022. Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat first. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)