Pakistan tour of England, 2020; England versus Pakistan, third Test at Ageas Bowl; Day 1; Eng 332/4, Zak Crawley (171*), J Buttler (87*); Yasir Shah (2/107), Shaheen Afridi (1/71).
In what was huge relief for the broadcasters and the top bosses of English cricket, the weather in Southampton held up appreciably for the final Test to start half-an-hour early.
What was even more welcoming was that the proceedings continued uninterrupted till the scheduled close of play under clear skies.
As for the cricket on show on the first day at the Ageas Bowl, it was the same old story with Pakistan as it let go of an opening to seize control of proceedings.
In a manner similar to how they let England off the hook after having them by the scruff of their necks on the final day at Old Trafford, Pakistan’s insipid bowling and fielding efforts allowed Joe Root’s men to escape from a precarious 127/4 to a dominant 332 without losing any further wicket at close of play in Southampton.
Wiser after the loss of precious playing time due to bad light during the second Test, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), in consultation with the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the other stakeholders, decided to introduce flexible start times in the final Test. The move was essentially aimed at taking bad light out of play.
After the wet days in the second Test, the two captains finally went out to toss under clear skies. The coin fell in favour of the England skipper and he promptly decided to bat first.
Pakistan had the better of the early exchanges as Mohammad Abbas and Shaheen Afridi got the ball to dart around on a fresh pitch, leaving the England openers searching for answers.
The left-armer struck in the fifth over as he got a delivery to take an edge off Rory Burns on way to the slips.
With England at 12/1, 22-year-old Zak Crawley joined Dom Sibley in the middle and the two tried to push the scoring along before the latter fell leg before to Yasir Shah for 22.
In the company of skipper Root, Crawley drove England forward as he picked up singles and doubles at will and struck fluent boundaries whenever the bowlers missed their lines and lenghts.
Root, who has been struggling with the bat, seemed to grow in confidence as he struck three boundaries on way to a neatly compiled 29. However, that was before the England skipper fell edging a beauty from Naseem Shah to the slips.
Young Ollie Pope, who came in at No. 5, didn’t last long as he failed to read a googly from Shah and saw his timber disturbed.
With England at 127/4, Pakistan had the momentum and were in with a chance to make further inroads into the English batting line-up. However, whatever hopes Pakistan might have had of tightening the screws on England vanished into the blue skies of Southampton, as keeper Jos Buttler joined a free-flowing Zak Crawley and the two were involved in a rollicking partnership which effectively put the game beyond their rivals.
Crawley brought up his maiden Test century and was unbeaten at the close of play on 171. It was a delightful knock from the Kent right-hander as after taking a few balls to settle in, he showed his full repertoire of strokes, justifying his inclusion in the squad. His innnings was laced with 19 fours.
Fresh from his heroics at Old Trafford, Buttler went on the attack from the start. He was especially brutal on Yasir Shah, taking 16 runs off him in an over. He was in sight of a century at 87* as the stumps were drawn for the day.
While England will look to kick on to 500 or more on Day 2, Pakistan’s only hope of comeback will be to prise out a few English wickets in the morning session. The end of proceedings on the second day might bear a clear hint where this game is headed.