Pakistan opener Azhar Ali, after making his team's historic 400th Test even more memorable by scoring a triple-hundred, has rued the lack of crowds at the Dubai International Stadium. Unable to host matches at home since 2009 due to security concerns, Pakistan now play their "home" matches in the UAE, but they rarely get big crowds for Test cricket in venues like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. While the whole idea of day-night Tests is to attract bigger crowds to the ground, the second day of the Test - a Friday and public holiday in the UAE - had mostly empty stands despite Pakistan's batsmen scoring runs with ease.
"If I had scored this at home, it would have been much better feeling and a better crowd would have made this occasion better, but a 300 is a 300 and I will take that any day," Azhar said on Friday night. "But I would love it if more crowd came in and watched the day-night Test. I would want to dedicate the innings to my parents and my country, who live cricket so much and support Pakistani cricket even through tough times when we can't play at home."
Azhar, who also crossed 4000 Test runs in this his 50th Test, became Pakistan's fourth batsmen in the triple-century club after Hanif Mohammad (337), Inzamam-ul-Haq (329) and Younis Khan (313). He spent two minutes short of 11 hours at the crease to score an unbeaten 302 off 469 balls with the help of 23 fours and two sixes.
"I can't really explain my feelings, the way the team and captain supported me through the last few runs, when I was nearing 300, it was exceptional from them," Azhar said. "It is a great achievement and I will remember it all my life. It is a proud moment for me, those who have already scored triple-centuries have been exceptional and world-class players, I am still working hard on my game but getting on that 300 list is a proud moment for me."
Opening the batting in Tests is a new role for Azhar. While he had done it earlier only in four matches between 2013 and 2015, he was asked to open again recently, during the fourth Test in England, as Mohammad Hafeez was dropped after a poor run. With Shoaib Malik also retired from Tests, Azhar seems to have now taken the role on for a longer run. One consequence of opening also means Azhar would have to bat for longer periods when he scores big, and its effects were seen when he started cramping after reaching his hundred.
"It was hard and I was sweating all the time," Azhar said. "Even yesterday I was feeling cramps but today I was getting runs; you get motivated with what is in front of you and that keeps you going. When you get pitches like this, you want to score big and when the chance comes, you convert hundred into double and triple, and that really boosted me. It has been tough overall but I kept going on and I am really happy that we have also set up a big total.
"I don't think a lot about records while batting but instead kept my focus in the game, went with the flow and let things unfold on their own. Obviously, when you are set, you have to maintain the pace of the runs as well but for such a big score you also require luck factor despite how good the pitch is. So I did my hard work and was pushing myself when I was approaching 300 because you can't really reach 270-280 every day in your career. Scoring a double is tough and think about how hard it would be to score triple. All I did was to keep things simple because when you are approaching a big milestone, the pressure naturally increases and at that stage even the non-regular bowlers are creating trouble."
Azhar had earlier said that he was not completely comfortable with the pink ball, when they experimented with it in Pakistan's domestic cricket. But after batting for nearly two days against the pink ball in Dubai, Azhar said the visibility of the ball was clear but was reluctant to give a broader projection about its future.
"I did see the pink ball clearly as the wicket was good and the ball didn't do much for most parts of the couple of days we played," he said. "These were different conditions. In the first [day-night] Test in Australia, the ball was swinging around in the evening so I think in different conditions this ball will do different things. You cannot just decide on this pitch how effective the ball is going to be - whether it is more favourable for batsmen or bowlers. I think we need to see more games and then see what happens."
While the declaration came as soon as Azhar crossed 300, he was asked if getting to 400 was on his mind or if he thought of reaching big scores when he began his innings.
"I didn't want go beyond 300 because there is a team plan and winning is important," he said. "To continue batting from there could have hurt our team's plans. Actually, I never thought about scoring 300 but was thinking about the team's needs. But yes, when I start my innings, I do think about scoring big.
"Double-hundred was what I was looking at and I got a lot of messages to get that as a triple looked quite far away. We had a plan and there was a shortage of time as we had to declare. We played according to the time we had and I knew I had to score a triple-hundred before that. It came easier but I did play big shots as well."