Azhar Ali leads Pakistan’s recovery to 124-2 at tea

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Azhar Ali scored his second straight half century as Pakistan recovered from two early losses and reached 124-2 at tea on the first day of the second cricket test against New Zealand on Saturday.

Seamer Colin de Grandhomme (2-16) removed both openers inside the first hour to reduce Pakistan to 25-2 before Azhar (69 not out) and Haris Sohail (37 not out) led the fightback.

Azhar scored 65 in the first of three tests but could not prevent Pakistan from losing by just four runs.

Sohail initially struggled against both seamers and spinners before sharing an unbroken 99-run stand with Azhar as the wicket improved for batting.

Azhar got off the mark with a streaky boundary — as the ball flew between wicketkeeper B.J. Watling and Ross Taylor at first slip — before surviving a strong leg before wicket appeal against pacer Trent Boult just before lunch as Pakistan reached 56-2 in the first session.

The No. 3 batsman gained confidence after lunch and raised his 50 off 100 balls when he drove Boult for a boundary. Azhar’s 142-ball unbeaten knock has featured seven fours and a straight six off left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel. He used his feet well against spinners Ish Sodhi and Patel.

Earlier, both Imam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Hafeez scored nine runs each before being caught in the slips by Tom Latham after Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat.

De Grandhomme was persistent in testing Pakistan’s openers with his seam and swing bowling before he tempted Hafeez and got the outside edge in his fourth over.

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Left-handed Imam couldn’t capitalize on a dropped catch — also by Latham — before the fielder made amends when he held onto an easy catch in Grandhomme’s fifth over.

Sohail took 17 balls to get off the mark.

Pakistan kept faith in the same playing XI and surprisingly retained struggling Bilal Asif.

New Zealand retained the same winning combination from the first test, which meant yet again no place for experienced seamer Tim Southee or fast bowler Matt Henry.

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