The first day of the second Test could not have gone much better for England.
They end it with Pakistan reduced to 126 for five, a score put into real context by the fact only 45.4 overs of play were possible and the opposition skipper, Azhar Ali, had opted to bat first upon winning the toss. Throw in a 1-0 lead and there is plenty to cheer.
Of course, it was James Anderson who led the charge so soon after his spot and career became a focus for debate after a tough first Test at Emirates Old Trafford and the onus placed on the 38 next to his name rather than the 590.
That became 592 after Anderson returned two for 35 from his 15 overs. Every one of the four quicks on show picked up a wicket, but no one bowled as well around them quite like the veteran.
Yet typically for the hosts, there were enough issues daring to detract from some excellent work. And right now, the most pressing issue seems to be a slip cordon leakier than a colander.
Usually, a settled batting line-up equals a settled group of slip catchers, with usual faces in usual places. But even if this is an XI with a recurring cast of batsmen, albeit not necessarily in the right order, England’s desire to break convention is strong.
According to CricViz, England have only taken 73 percent of their slip cordon chances since 2018, a record only better than Bangladesh who are rock-bottom of the 12 Test sides with 69 per cent. Pakistan, as it happens, are out in front with 89 per cent. a
The lack of Ben Stokes added to the uncertainty behind the stumps. With the allrounder returning home to spend time with his family, Zak Crawley was brought into the side, with Sam Curran in for a “rested” Jofra Archer.
For all Stokes' merits in the field, slip catching is comfortably his weakest suit. The allrounder has dropped nine catches in 2020 and eight of them have been behind the bat. Still, his absence was still an inconvenience, with another reshuffle to Joe Root’s right, with Rory Burns in at second and Dom Sibley at third.
Typically, both contribute to England’s drop percentage, both shelling Abid Ali who use the reprieves to bring up a third score over 50 in his seventh innings. Sibley would offer the first, failing to take a catch at shoulder height to his left off the bowling of Broad with the right-hander on just one from 11 balls.
On 21, Burns provided the second life with a far more routine catch botched off Chris Woakes that allowed Pakistan to make their way to an early lunch on 62 for one. A tidy effort having opted to bat first in humid conditions.
Then again, even when the nicks were getting caught, there did not bother with much of an appeal. In the over after the interval, Azhar Ali flashed a drive through to Jos Buttler. Only Root was convinced, though not enough to spend one of his three reviews to overturn the umpire’s not out decision. A sliver of a sound was detected on UltraEdge.
Indeed, the cards were dealt for a frustrating day for England, with the constant musk preying on the already fraying nerves out on the field. Not, though, on James Anderson’s watch.
He’d removed Shan Masood early on to leave the left-handed opener on 157 runs in three innings this series having scored 156 in his first, and was undoubtedly the pick of the attack through a taxing few hours.
He was quick, too, averaging 85.5mph, and coupled with a bit of bounce and seam was able to nab Azhar’s edge to not only see him off for 20 – the score he was on for the phantom edge - but also give Burns the chance to make amends with a successful grab.
The Surrey captain would get a second to move into the positive when Abid was finally snared off Curran for 60. That felt about right as a score: streaky, chancy but a decent enough representation of his effort. Passing 50 with a streak edge from his 99th delivery faced just about sums it up.
Sibley’s redemption came soon after when Asad Shafiq (5) gave Broad a deserved wicket with a healthy edge. And there was no need to extra help to remove Fawad Alam when he was trapped in front by Woakes for a five-minute duck.
Alam’s plight was all the more demoralising considering it had been 11 years since his previous Test appearance. He spent the time churning in domestic cricket, picking up 28 more first-class centuries, all while honing a open chested technique that makes him arguably the most front-facing lefty since Gary Lineker.
England, though, had no pause for empathy. A truncated day still housed a good deal of drama but, ultimately, fell the way of the hosts.