BIRMINGHAM: Azhar Ali’s patient century lifted Pakistan to 257 for three and a dominant position on the second day of the third Test against England at Edgbaston on Thursday.
Pakistan were none for one just four balls into their innings when Hafeez fell for a duck after lazily guiding a short James Anderson delivery to Gary Ballance at point.
The tourists had seen Sohail Khan, one of their two changes from the side beaten by 330 runs in the second Test at Old Trafford as England levelled the four-match series at 1-1, take five wickets on Wednesday.
Now all eyes were on Aslam, also playing just his third Test, after the 20-year-old had been brought in to replace struggling opener Shan Masood.
Left-hander Aslam steered Stuart Broad wide of gully for the first four of Pakistan’s innings in the fifth over.
His only prior innings this tour had seen Aslam make just 17 against Worcestershire last week in a two-day warm-up match.
Yet the well-organised opener played with a maturity belying his years in both attack and defence.
Azhar showed his class by calmly turning Anderson off his legs for four.
And when all-rounder Chris Woakes overpitched on his Warwickshire home ground, Azhar elegantly drove him through the covers for another boundary.
The stylish 31-year-old was equally severe when fast bowler Steven Finn dropped short, cutting him for four over point.
Off-spinner Moeen Ali received similar treatment, with Azhar cutting a rank short ball for four.
Pakistan reached lunch on 72 for one, with Aslam 27 not out and Azhar 38 not out.
Those scores remained unaltered when Azhar, in a rare indiscretion, went for a flashing drive outside off stump against Anderson, only for Joe Root to drop the awkward second-slip chance to his left.
Azhar quickly reverted to a more patient style of play before cover-driving a wide Broad ball off the front foot for a resounding four.
Another cover-drive, this time off Finn for three, saw Azhar complete a 129-ball fifty, including six fours, in nearly three hours at the crease.
Aslam’s swept four off Ali then saw him to the landmark, his maiden Test fifty coming in 135 balls with five boundaries.
It was the start of a sequence of three fours in five balls from Ali for Aslam, including a lofted drive over the top of mid-on.
Azhar almost fell to a similar shot off Ali when on 68, but the bowler was unable to hold a tough return chance above his head off a hard-hit drive.
Aslam was run out for 82 after being called for a quick single by Azhar who was dropped twice before completing his 10th test century.
Azhar got to three figures by gloving a Stuart Broad bouncer to the fine leg boundary, celebrating the milestone with 10 press-ups.
He continued to punish the England attack, hitting a total of 15 fours and one six, before edging the last ball of the day from Chris Woakes to Alastair Cook at first slip. Younus Khan was unbeaten on 21 at the close. The four-match series is level at 1-1.
Pakistan won toss
England 1st innings 297 all-out (G Ballance 70; Sohail 5-96)
Pakistan 1st innings
Mohammad Hafeez c Ballance b Anderson 0
Sami Aslam run out 82
Azhar Ali c Cook b Woakes 139
Younis Khan not out 21
Extras (b 2, lb 12, nb 1) 15
Total (3 wickets; 90 overs) 257
To bat: *Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq, †Sarfraz Ahmed, Mohammad Amir, Rahat Ali, Yasir Shah, Sohail Khan
Fall: 1-0, 2-181, 3-257
Bowling: Anderson 19-6-32-1; Broad 19-3-49-0(1nb); Finn 16-3-44-0; Woakes 19-3-52-1; Ali 15-2-63-0; Vince 1-0-2-0; Root 1-0-1-0
Umpires: B N J Oxenford (Australia) and J S Wilson (West Indies). TV umpire: H D P K Dharmasena (Sri Lanka). Match referee: R B Richardson (West Indies)