Past failures made me nervous - Azhar Ali
Azhar Ali, the Pakistan batsman, said memories of previous innings in which he had failed to convert big fifties into a century did make him nervous as he approached his maiden Test hundred in Dubai. He had scored 10 Test half-centuries before he finally reached the three-figure mark on Thursday, and said this time he was patient in waiting for the last few runs to come.
"The last time I was on 90, in Abu Dhabi [against South Africa], I tried to hit a few boundaries to get to the hundred mark. But this time I waited for the bad balls.
"I was a bit nervous and did think of the other occasions I had been in the nineties. Misbah-ul-Haq was very helpful and told me to just bat and wait for the runs to come."
Even without having got a century, Azhar had averaged 39.75 over his first 14 Tests and cemented his place in the Pakistan side. However, he said his ambition is to become a "great player", and knew that would require big scores. "You have to play big innings to be a great player and I was missing those. Now, I want to continue to play big knocks because I've already missed a few hundreds and have to make up for that."
Pakistan had received criticism for batting too slowly in the first innings of the first Test against Sri Lanka, and on Thursday got just 239 runs in 90 overs at a run-rate of 2.66. Azhar's strike-rate was 41.32 but he said the Dubai pitch was not easy to score quickly on.
"It's not easy to score freely on this pitch. The track is slow and if you try to score fast you could end up playing a silly shot and losing your wicket. On this pitch you have to take your time. We did well as a team today to get into the position we are in.
"A lead of 150 or 200 will put us in a good position because the ball is turning and keeping low. Today, the second new ball swung as well. This is the kind of pitch where one good spell can run through a batting line-up."
Azhar was dismissed at the end of the day for exactly 100 but replays showed he had got a bottom-edge on to the Tillakaratne Dilshan delivery. Rather than blame the umpire Tony Hill for the decision, Azhar said he was disappointed he had chosen to play a sweep with the end of the day nearing.
"I selected a wrong shot and it was disappointing because had we been three down I could have been sitting here looking forward to increasing the lead tomorrow. But we have Misbah there who is very calm so hopefully he can take us ahead."
Geoff Marsh, the Sri Lanka coach, said he was glad his side got rid of Azhar before stumps but said he had looked like getting out in the nineties. "We were glad to get Azhar out at the end of the day but it looked as though we could have had him before," Marsh said. "You could see he was nervous in the nineties and it looked like we could dismiss him then."
Despite Pakistan being ahead by 42 runs with six wickets in hand, Marsh said Sri Lanka were not yet out of the match. "If we can bowl Pakistan out for a first-innings lead of 100-150 then we have to bat well and you never know on the last day of a Test match. If you can get 150 or so ahead by the last day of a Test then the previous four days go out the window and it comes down to those last two sessions.
"But we've got a lot of hard work to do. We've first got to bowl them out. The turn on this pitch is slow so it's going to be hard work for both sides. If you bowl well on this pitch there is a bit of swing and help."