England versus Pakistan, second Test at Ageas Bowl; Brief scorecard: Pak 223/9 in 86 overs; Mohammad Rizwan (60*), Naseem Shah (1*); James Anderson (3/48), Stuart Broad (3/56).
The skies over the Ageas Bowl, at the start of second day’s play, wore a similarly dull look as the Pakistan scorecard at the close of play on Day 1.
As was forecast, it started drizzling soon after, delaying the start of play. It wasn’t until a good two hours of play was lost due to bad weather that the covers were removed and the overnight batsmen, vice-captain Babar Azam and wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan strode out to the middle.
If ever a situation called gritty and resolute batsmanship, this was it. And, with it being Independence Day back home, the Pakistanis weren’t short of motivation to fight with all they had.
For a spell, the going was good for Pakistan as Babar and Rizwan left balls they didn’t need to negotiate and scored off the ones that asked to be hit.
Though Pakistan crawled to 155 in an hour of play, what was important was that no further wicket was lost as the overnight duo saw off the opening spells of Stuart Broad and James Anderson safely.
The post-lunch session, however, brought immediate success to England as Babar edged Broad to keeper Jos Buttler. It took a peach of a delivery to end a doughty and determined knock of 47.
With the last recognised batting pair separated, it was left to young Rizwan to drive the Pakistan innings forward.
However, while Rizwan stood firm, Yasir Shah, who played a fighting knock in the second innings at Old Trafford, was soon worked over by Anderson for 5. It was the third wicket for the England spearhead this innings, taking his Test tally to 593.
In a matter of overs, Pakistan were seven down for 171, with only Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Abbas and Naseem Shah left to bat.
An edge by Afridi off left-armer Sam Curran was pouched by skipper Joe Root at first slip.
Though the soft signal by the on-field umpires was ‘Out’, the third umpire was brought into play as there appeared to be an element of doubt on whether the catch was taken cleanly. He was eventually ruled ‘Not Out’.
However, Afridi didn’t trouble the scorers at all as a direct throw from England opener Dom Sibley found him short of the crease for a duck.
Even as wickets fell around him, Rizwan reeled off four boundaries in quick succession to reach his second Test fifty. It was an innings full of character and gumption – precisely what Pakistan sorely missed upfront.
With Pakistan eight down, out stepped number 10 Mohammad Abbas. Soon, there was a loud appeal for leg before wicket by Broad against Abbas. With the on-field umpire ruling ‘Not Out’, Root referred it to the third umpire via DRS. However, the latter stayed with the on-field decision.
That was the last bit of action in the post-lunch session as Pakistan took ‘Tea’ at 215/8.
Abbas failed to cash in on his reprieve as he was caught plumb in front of the stumps by Broad for 2.
Unlikely though it seemed, however, the last pair of Rizwan and Naseem held out for a brief spell before bad light stopped play.
With the light dropping further as the skies got gloomier, the umpires called off play with Pakistan nine down for 223. The only redeeming feature about Pakistan’s batting on the day was that Rizwan was still undefeated on 60.
Some pundits still saw hope for Pakistan on the third day, saying that with more wet weather forecast in the coming days, any score close to or over 250 could be enough to put England under pressure.
However, more than the last pair, the onus will firmly be on the Pakistan bowlers to strike early and bring them back into the game.