Abid Ali and Babar Azam give Pakistan the day they were waiting for

The draw was inevitable but the two batsmen had the Rawalpindi crowd on its feet

Abid Ali looks to the skies after making a hundred on debut, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Rawalpindi, Day 5

Abid Ali looks to the skies after making a hundred on debut  •  AFP

The alarm goes off at 6am; why? The idea of starting Sunday, of all days, at this time seems slightly indecent. What is the point, after all? With the past three days spent coming to the ground and watching ground staff sweep puddles off the covers.
All for 23.1 overs. The sun would rise today, and we'd get a full day's play, but it is more likely it'd rise from the west than that it would help produce a result in this marquee Test match.
The traffic on the roads is negligible; most people are sensible enough to remain tucked under the covers on this chilly Rawalpindi morning. A trickle of sunshine breaks through the skies for the first time since day one, and on a morning as crisp as this one, it is more than welcome. A few of the cricket tragics begin to settle in, the weirdos. Don't they have families? Or more importantly, comfy slippers and a duvet?
Play begins with Dhananjaya de Silva walking to the crease. This has happened so often over the past three days the MCC laws may have been tweaked to stipulate any passage of play hasn't begun until de Silva unfurls that luxuriant on-drive. Our Sri Lankan correspondent, Andrew Fernando, can't stop talking about it, and so in time-honoured journalistic tradition, there's a good chance he's going to get out for 99.
He doesn't. The crafty bugger instead leans into a cover drive when he's on 97, having played one of the shots of the Test to bring up his century. It looks like he's got his eye in from the first ball, which isn't particularly surprising, given this is the sixth time he's had to resume his innings, thanks to all the rain and light interruptions. That's all Sri Lanka want from today, and Karunaratne calls them in. In four days and a bit, Pakistan's all-pace attack has managed six Sri Lankan wickets. That isn't completely fair, but then again, what is, in Pakistan cricket?
Shan Masood gets out straightaway attempting a cover drive to a full toss. Azhar Ali likely won't thank him for that. The newly appointed Pakistan captain, appointed because the old Pakistan captain was out of form, is out of form. He hasn't scored a half-century in 11 innings, and if he thought the openers would see off the new ball for him, Shan's dismissal has ensured Azhar will come in early.
It is an opportunity, there's no question about it. The pitch has flattened out, the Sri Lankan fast bowlers have begun somewhat unremarkably, and there's very little sign of swing, seam or spin. But when you're in the sort of rut Azhar finds himself in currently, even opportunities begin to look like booby traps. He's very defensive, even as Abid Ali at the other end, fighting to make a spot in the team his at Imam-ul-Haq's expense, finds himself in full flow. Azhar pokes, prods and defends, and inches his way towards a fifty he thinks will buy himself some breathing room. But two and a half painful hours at the crease end when he chips a ball that stops on him straight to short midwicket. Pakistan's Test captain is out of form. What else is new?
Walking in to replace him, though, is the most important man in Pakistan cricket - the word "cricket" may be redundant here. And you hear the chants ring around the stadium. "Baaaa-ber! Baaa-ber!" The stadium, it suddenly becomes clear, is almost entirely full. The stands encircling the ground have no formal seating, just stone steps rising to about 20 rows. Either side of the ground, they're completely packed, and noisy. It's a pointless day in the context of the game, but this is a Test match, and these people want to watch it. They've waited five days to witness Pakistan's best batsman take to the field in this format, and in the bigger picture, a whole lot longer.
It's worth remembering on the other side of the world, there's a Test match set to produce a result today that hasn't pulled in a fraction of the numbers Pindi's managed. Australia go on to beat New Zealand in Perth, and yet the stadium remains nearly empty. It is a country that regularly draws Test crowds that are the envy of the world, and it's the day-night kind all the experts tell us will draw in all the people the format regularly fails to stimulate. It's probably a good thing, though, as early into the day, the organisers there are forced into a food recall, with the sandwiches and the salad apparently giving people the runs. In Pindi, at least, the runs come from the batsmen, particularly Abid Ali and Babar Azam.
Abid ends up scoring a hundred, and the 10,000 or so who've turned up get to watch history being made. The 32-year old becomes the first man to get to three figures on both ODI and Test debut. Chants of "Aaaa-bid" now echo around the stadium. He punches the air, draws Babar into a bear hug, prostrates and gives thanks. He raises his bat and looks around the ground, genuinely moved by the support he can't have imagined he would ever get, in his own country, no less. This is probably the biggest crowd a Test in Pakistan has seen since India played in Karachi in 2006. Since that's unlikely to happen anytime again soon, this becomes the new benchmark.
Babar scores a hundred too, like he's beginning to do with jaw-dropping consistency. It appears there wouldn't be enough time for him to get there, but while Abid, by his own admission later, slows down in the nineties because he is nervous, Babar cracks on from the other end, and when Abid brings up the milestone, Babar is on the cusp of his. Now the crowd's got a taste of Babar in the flesh, they will clamour for more. If this tour goes well, they may just get their fix.
But it's hard to argue today truly belongs to Abid. You tell him this day served no purpose. Try convincing this crowd there was no point to it. And as they shake hands on a draw everyone knew was inevitable the moment the alarm clocks went off, let's admit this was worth it after all.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000