he ball was one of the better ones Dom Bess had bowled. It flew in a loop and as Shan Masood lunged out it landed, bit on the pitch and spun away, moving just enough to catch the outside edge of his bat.
Masood snapped his head back to watch the catch but by the time he had turned around Jos Buttler had already missed it. The ball hit the heel of the wicketkeeper’s thumb and bounced away towards slip. It all happened so quickly, the merest split-second, that the commentators were not even sure if Masood had hit it.
It was one of those little moments matches can turn on. Soon after, there was another, similar, but this time it was a chance for a stumping. Bess was bowling again and Masood was still on 45.
He had been stuck there so long he lost patience and came charging down the pitch to try to launch the ball down the ground. He missed it but so did Buttler and the ball bounced off his shoulder.
After that, Masood, reminded of what he had to lose, grew more resolute while Buttler, dwelling on the mistakes he had made, seemed to lose confidence in himself, confidence he had only just started to build with his batting in the last Test against West Indies.
Buttler dropped Yasir Shah, off Bess, again. He also made a mess of a run-out chance, with a throw at the non-striker’s stumps that flew so high and wide it would have missed the neighbour’s barn door, never mind his own.
By the end of the innings, Buttler was biting his lip and muttering under his breath, a shadow of himself, a shadow, certainly, of the player England believe him to be. They have two outstanding wicketkeeper batsmen waiting offstage, Jonny Bairstow, who spoke again this week about how he wants to get back in the Test team, and Ben Foakes, who has been the Test understudy all summer.
It can be a pitiless game. As Masood knows as well as anyone. He and Buttler were passing each other on its slopes, travelling in different directions. Last time Masood played against England, across home and away series in 2015 and 2016, the game must have seemed pretty cruel to him. Jimmy Anderson dismissed him six times. Masood made a grand total of 126 runs in eight innings.
Masood lived in England when he was a kid, went to school and university here and was desperate to do well. But he looked hopelessly out of his depth in the two Tests he played in England when he had a nervous compulsion to play at everything that passed within arm’s reach of his off stump.
He has an interesting story. The son of a banker, he was born in Kuwait but the family left during the first Gulf war. They moved to the US and Pakistan before they came to England, where he crammed his A-Levels into a single year at Stamford School in Lincolnshire. He almost broke the record for most runs in a season while he was there.
Then he went on to Durham, where he was part of Graeme Fowler’s excellent MCCU programme. Because his family is well-heeled, and his father was the bank’s representative on the Pakistan Cricket Board, when he broke into the Test team there were inevitable whispers that he owed his place in the team to his connections.
But Masood has always been pretty driven. He was one of the fittest players in the Pakistan set-up and after he was dropped he became obsessed with picking people’s brains to learn what he could do to improve.
It worked. This was his third Test century in consecuitve innings, after his 135 against Sri Lanka in Karachi and his 100 against Bangladesh in Rawalpindi.
The obvious change is that he has learned to be comfortable leaving the ball outside off stump, something he did quite particularly well in this innings. It was an innings of great patience, from a man of great persistence.
One of the men he has been working with most closely, Younis Khan, said he was sick with nerves watching Masood move through the 90s, because he knew how much the idea of scoring a hundred in England meant to him. Younis said he was worried Masood would burst into tears if he got out before he made it there.
After he had his hundred, he pressed on much as he had before. Until, right around the time the innings was coming to an end, when he found himself batting with the tail, he started spraying boundaries down the ground, a celebratory champagne burst of batting.
For Buttler, his place, now, almost untenable, the moment must have felt more like a wake.