England’s wretched record in the first Test of a series is in danger of continuing. Their situation after a compelling, topsy-turvy day is not irretrievable but it remains serious.
Pakistan, indebted to a superb century by Shan Masood – his fourth in Test cricket and probably his best – reached 326, a substantial score on a dry surface that is anticipated to become dustier as the game proceeds. By the close England were in some strife on 92 for four, which represented something of a recovery led by Ollie Pope who is still there on 46.
Often we witnessed cricket on a different level to that displayed in the series against West Indies. This was most obviously the case when England began their innings after tea. The potency of the Pakistan attack has been much heralded in the build‑up to this series. There is always the danger of hyperbole before a much‑anticipated contest but, in that final session, the Pakistan bowlers lived up to their reputations.
Within six overs England were reduced to 12 for three, all dismissals coming from classic new-ball bowling. In Shaheen Afridi’s first over Rory Burns received a swinging half-volley from the lanky left-armer and clipped it with some panache to the leg‑side boundary. Then he received something similar, which prompted him to attempt the same shot. But the delivery was a little shorter and straighter. Burns missed it and was lbw on review.
At the other end Mohammad Abbas was weaving another of his 80mph spells. Soon he struck the pads of Dominic Sibley, another batsman who prefers to bat on middle and off stump and this time the lbw appeal was granted, which prompted an unsuccessful review from the batsman. Soon the Pakistan side was celebrating even more vociferously as Abbas dispatched Ben Stokes for a duck. Stokes, as is his wont, shuffled a long way down the pitch to negate the medium pacer. He failed to cover his stumps and the ball magically passed his outside edge before brushing the off stump.
England were on the rack. Root took 22 balls to get off the mark while Pope looked to be relishing fresh challenges. He scored more quickly than his captain, never fearful of playing his shots. Azhar Ali turned to his precocious teenager, Naseem Shah, for his first bowl on English soil. Though wicketless he impressed with the purity of his action and the speed of his deliveries. Yasir Shah was introduced and a few of his leg-breaks turned prodigiously, but there were also some loose ones eagerly put away by Pope.
Root and Pope added 50 and then the England captain, to his disgust, attempted to cut Yasir and edged to the keeper. Jos Buttler came out for half an hour and did not appear to be haunted by his aberrations behind the stumps while adding another 30 alongside the exuberant Pope. But after an upbeat start to the day England had long since forfeited their hold on the game.
They were excellent in the morning session and execrable after lunch for the second day in succession. In the first over of the day they had the perfect start with the dismissal of Babar Azam who edged an enticing full-length delivery from Jimmy Anderson to Root at slip. Thereafter the old firm gave nothing away and the pressure mounted. Before long Asad Shafiq pushed at Stuart Broad and edged to Stokes at second slip.
Masood stood firm and statuesque but run-scoring opportunities were as rare as a ray of Old Trafford sunshine. Chris Woakes kept the pressure on and then dismissed Mohammad Rizwan with an edge to Buttler. In two hours Pakistan could eke out only 48 runs for the loss of those three wickets. It seemed that England’s bowlers had recovered their discipline after their poor session on Wednesday afternoon.
On this day nothing much was as it seemed. In the next 90 minutes England surrendered the initiative and Pakistan seized it. England had bowled 75 overs by lunch after which Root decided to be cute; he opted to bowl himself alongside Dom Bess to get to 80 overs and the second new ball. Off‑spin at one end made some sense; at both ends seemed too clever by half especially when neither found the optimum line and length. Moreover Shadab Khan, on one at the interval, decided that this was an opportunity for some quick runs, which would give his innings some momentum.
In those five overs Pakistan scored 27 runs and Shadab had raced along to 22. Nor could the new ball halt the flow. Shadab was now galvanised and he and Masood now played a sophisticated version of tip and run. They took risks, goaded the fielders and exasperated the England captain. Shies towards the stumps did not hit them; occasionally there were overthrows. The veterans were no longer so miserly as Masood began to play ever more fluently. This was a different game to the morning.
This pair added a crucial 105, after which only 45 more runs were forthcoming though there was still time for Buttler to miss another chance off the bowling of Bess. Masood opened his shoulders against Bess, hitting a couple of sixes, while Jofra Archer, less impressive than on Wednesday, picked up two more wickets at the end, as did Broad. It seems they will all be bowling again before long.