A Test match for the ages finished in Old Trafford yesterday with Pakistan hearts being broken by a late-order English surge.
A three-wicket win for the hosts ended a game that swung like a pendulum over a period of four days as overcast skies helped premier swing bowlers of both sides run riot.
However, as much as the bowlers, including Pakistan leg-spinner Yasir Shah, dominated the match, two contrasting innings by two adversaries were the highlights of the game.
While Chris Woakes’ back-to-the-wall unbeaten 84 and his aggressive partnership with Jos Buttler took England to victory, Shan Masood’s epic 156 in the very first innings of the match was very much a classical Test-match knock and epitomised the key qualities a Test batsman must have: patience, perseverance and the ability to adapt.
Masood proves his mettle
Masood is 30 and has only played 20 Test matches over 7 years since making his debut in 2013. His innings was strangely characteristic of his arduous climb to the top.
He has joined an elite club by scoring the ton in the first innings as one of only six Pakistani batsmen to have hit a century in three consecutive innings.
The UK-educated and Kuwait-born Masood is not your typical Pakistan cricketer, having already been a journeyman of sorts. His knock on the first and second days evinced a proclivity for self-effacement that worked wonders in the context of the game.
He purposely played second fiddle to the more vivacious Babar Azam on the first day with the latter finding his timing in difficult circumstances as Anderson, Broad and Stokes spewed venom.
Masood, on the other hand, chose to negotiate the pace battery quietly, settling into his stride over time. However, he grew in confidence with time and became the dominant batsman as wickets tumbled at the other end.
His footwork improved and his square-drives and glances attained fluency even as others struggled against the swing.
Masood batted for nearly eight hours, anchoring Pakistan’s innings as they reached 326.
He could have carried his bat through but for a mistake towards the end.
However, Masood’s soft dismissal in the second innings proves that he needs to apply the aforementioned qualities more consistently if he wants to better his current Test average hovering in the low 30s.
Pakistan, as a Test team, will hope that his first-innings solidity wasn’t a fluke as well.
Woakes, the batsman to the fore
Since the West Indies series, Chris Woakes has emerged as a frontline seamer in the England team, his line and length and ability to move the ball making him a regular in the line-up despite the England squad being full of top-notch pacers.
However, his batting abilities were often overlooked and, to be honest, Woakes had not done enough to make people remember that he is indeed a capable lower-order batter.
Coming in at No.7 yesterday with England tottering under a sustained spell of top-quality bowling, Woakes had chosen the toughest assignment to resurrect his batting form.
He came out on top, as he, along with the swashbuckling Jos Buttler, not only tackled the bowlers with their tails up on a tricky fourth-day pitch, but went full throttle, picking up the gaps in the in-field and exploiting the large gaps in the outfield.
Woakes timed the ball to perfection from the go, using his stance to find the fence on the off-side, while also driving straight with aplomb. The Pakistan pacers failed to exploit his supposed susceptibility to the short stuff and played into his liking for the off-side, but one cannot take anything away from Woakes, who remained unbeaten on 84 and took his team home.
Woakes knock was a study in contrast to that of Masood’s, while the former chose to wait for his moment patiently, the England all-rounder took the aggressive route to break the shackles.
In essence, the two innings highlighted the variety of Test cricket and the myriad hues that colour the longest format.