Pakistan tour of England, first Test at Emirates Old Trafford, Day 2: England 92/4 in 28 overs (Ollie Pope 46*, Jos Buttler 15*) trail Pakistan 326 (Shan Masood 156, Babar Azam 69) by 234 runs
If Pakistan ended Day 1 on the driver’s seat at 139/2, it was England’s turn to script a strong comeback in the morning session of Day 2.
However, just when the Pakistan camp would have feared the momentum slipping away, up stepped a yet unheralded opener, who was unbeaten overnight, to not only take his team to a challenging total but help his bowling mates seize the initiative with early strikes.
After a rain-curtailed final session on the opening day, Pakistan would have hoped to carry on with the momentum, with lanky opener Shan Masood and vice-captain Babar Azam. The two were involved in an unbroken 94-run stand overnight, giving Pakistan hope of a big first innings total.
However, their innings wobbled as the England pacemen, led by Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes, inflicted early blows reducing Pakistan to 176/5.
Babar, who had returned unbeaten at 69 on Day 1, failed to add to his overnight score as he was snapped up by Joe Root off Jimmy Anderson. Asad Shafique and stumper Mohammad Rizwan also fell cheaply for 7 and 9 respectively.
Masood leads the charge
However, as has seldom been in evidence in their recent encounters in the longest format, Pakistan mounted a fightback by virtue of a doughty rearguard display by leggie Shadab Khan.
A regular in limited overs cricket who is yet to make a mark in the longest form, Shadab produced a gritty 45 in association with Shan Masood and it was their partnership that was key to Pakistan finishing at 326.
Masood’s long vigil at the crease ended at 156 as he eventually fell to Broad. However, by then, he had given Pakistan a realistic chance of going 1-0 up in the series.
Shan Masood batted for nearly eight hours and surpassed his previous best of 135 against Sri Lanka in Karachi in December last year.
In the process, the England-educated Masood joined a select group of Pakistan batsmen to have scored hundreds in three successive Test Innings.
He became the sixth Pakistan batsman to do so after Zaheer Abbas, Mudassar Nazar, Mohammad Yousuf, Younis Khan, and current Pakistan coach Misbah-ul-haq.
Shan Masood had earlier scored back to back centuries against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the Test conducted late last year and early this year.
Pak bowlers make early inroads
With the momentum back with Pakistan, their opening bowlers made early inroads into the English line-up, reducing them to 21/3. While Rory Burns was caught plumb in front of the stumps by the lanky Shaheen Shah Afridi, his opening partner Dom Sibley fell to the metronomic Mohammad Abbas. Both fell for single digit scores.
England were in further trouble as their talisman Ben Stokes, who had been in rollicking form with the willow in the recent series against the West Indies, was clean bowled by Abbas for a duck.
Skipper Joe Root tried to resurrect the innings in the company of young Ollie Pope, but he too fell to Yasir Shah for 14. England ended Day 2 at a nervy 92/4, with Pope and keeper Jos Buttler unbeaten on 46 and 15 respectively.
Day 3 is likely to see fresh twists and turns, with Pakistan hoping to get into the English tail and the latter trying to stretch their innings and reduce the deficit.
The Pakistanis would be keen to send back Pope and Buttler as both are free-scoring batsmen and the longer their partnership flourishes the better are England’s chances of reaching the Pakistan score and even overhauling it.
With the surface likely to take turn as the game progresses, Yasir and his leg-spin partner Shadab will come into play. A lead of around 150 or more would put Pakistan in the box seat and leave England chasing shadows.
Root’s men, on the other hand, will hope for a fruitful joint vigil by Pope and Buttler. If they manage to close in on Pakistan’s score and take a sizeable lead, they can put the latter under pressure with a few early blows.
What’s certain, however, is that the Old Trafford Test is headed for a close finish, with all three possibilities open on days 3,4 and 5.
Here’s to another absorbing day’s cricket at Old Trafford.