England versus Pakistan, second Test at Ageas Bowl, Brief scorecard: Pak 126/5 in 45.4 overs; Babar Azam (25*), Mohammad Rizwan (4*), Anderson (2/35)
With the series on the line, the Pakistanis were expected to come out more determined to get one over England and restore parity going into the third Test.
But all that they could conjure up under grey skies at the Ageas Bowl was another listless and insipid display, as their batters failed to stand up to the seam and swing of Anderson, Broad and company in muggy overhead conditions.
As the coin flipped in favour of Pakistan again, skipper Azhar Ali chose to bat, a decision many felt wasn’t a well thought out one at the end of day’s play.
Taking first strike on a bowlers’ strip under an overcast sky was asking for trouble, as some pundits said, and so it turned out to be for Pakistan as they lost half their side for 126 by the time the stumps were drawn.
There was a sense that Pakistan were lucky to escape further trouble as intermittent showers disrupted play on the opening day and brought an early halt to the proceedings in the final session.
While the jury is out on whether it was a bold or an ill-advised call to bat first on a surface tailor-made for the English bowlers, the least that the Pakistan skipper and the think-tank would have expected was for the batsmen to show more grit and weather the opening burst by Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad.
And, for a spell, they seemed to be doing just that as they were 60-odd for the loss of one wicket when rain forced the covers to be rolled on the pitch for the first time on Day 1.
Lanky opener Shan Masood, who anchored Pakistan’s first innings at Old Trafford with a well-compiled 156, was the lone wicket to fall. He was caught plumb in front of the stumps by Andeson for 1.
The skipper, whose batting has come under scrutiny after a run of poor scores, joined Abid Ali in the middle at the fall of Masood’s wicket and the two looked to have settled in when Azhar Ali fell, edging an Anderson delivery to the slips.
The 38-year-old England spearhead, who has also been fielding questions around his form and age, was easily the best bowler on view with two scalps.
The loss of Azhar Ali’s wicket, with the scoreboard reading 78, opened a floodgate of sorts for England as Pakistan lost three more wickets thereafter for the addition of another 48 runs. Abid Ali, who edged a few past the slip cordon to the ropes, eventually fell to the left-arm pace of Sam Curran for 60. It was an innings cut short before it could flower.
Veteran Asad Shafique, who too has been facing increasing criticism over his indifferent batting form, was out caught for 5 off Broad.
Veteran Fawad Alam, who was back in the international arena after a gap of 11 years, seemed to be overcome by the occasion as he missed a straight one from Chris Woakes to be caught plumb in front. One hopes, the 34-year-old isn’t judged by one failure and gets a fair run to prove his worth in the Pakistan squad.
At close of play, the redoubtable Babar Azam was holding fort at 25, in the company of stumper Mohammad Rizwan, unbeaten on 4.
It remains to be seen if the vice-captain can take Pakistan to a fighting total with support from the lower order. However, that seems unlikely as Pakistan has gone in with a long tail at the Ageas Bowl and if the gloomy weather holds, as the forecast says it would, expect them to be rolled over for under 200.
Pakistan already have their backs to the wall and have to battle hard if they are to reach a respectable total and put the pressure back on England.