If cricket is your sport and Tests are your thing, here was a day with everything for you.
A patient century from a throwback opener, a day that blew into life with some of the finest quick bowling you could wish to see and a young something punching out from the ropes.
But only if you were aligned with Pakistan in any way will you feel true satisfaction. Shan Masood battled to 156 before the tourists reduced England to 62 for four, with all of the top four done and dusted inside 20 overs. That they were able to scrabble to 92 for four owed much to Ollie Pope’s 46, which seemed to happen in isolation to what was happening around him.
There’s a lot to be said for how this day panned out. It is not often that the second day of a Test match comes to life like this, but it did fit to type that a side’s diligence is rewarded with the kind of cluster of wickets of weary batsmen who had been kept out in the field for so long. From an England player’s perspective, over five sessions of tedium were compounded by one session that was perhaps a fifth-wicket away from utter disaster.
Pakistan restarted the morning on 139 for two, neither here nor there. Most of the overnight thoughts, however, were on world-class batsman on the rise and a world-class bowler on the wane. That’s how things seem to work in this sport.
The “greats” club is always at capacity, operating on a “one in, one out” policy. We – all of us – are the bouncers, arguing among ourselves. “I mean, it’s only one hundred outside Asia, but come in Babar”. “Ooooh sorry Jimmy, you’re not staying with an overseas average above 30.”
Perhaps thankfully for wider sanity, it was a debate that was nipped in the bud early on. James Anderson took away Babar Azam’s driving opportunities long enough for the right-hander to forget how to execute one perfectly. Joe Root took the catch at first slip, the great-in-waiting having to wait a little longer, unable to add to his overnight score of 69.
A slow trudge later and Pakistan were 176 for five: three dismissals, including Babar, for just 37 runs. First the debate was skewered, now seemingly Pakistan’s day one by a shade was to be followed by England’s to a greater degree.
It was premature to think so, but it was not necessarily fool-hardy. Because as well as impressive as Masood’s staying power was the very real expectation that, eventually, he would be off. And he was to be fair. But not before eating up 319 deliveries and spitting out a mightily impressive 156 runs, with bits of England’s attack not quite between his teeth but certainly with a taste of their toil.
Masood is not destined for “the club”, nor would he even bother queueing up for it. And it is that kind of self-awareness that saw him not *just* score a fourth Test hundred, but a third in as many innings. All against different opposition.
He is not a prolific driver, so he didn’t drive much. He does cut, but he doesn’t try and manufacture it off deliveries not meant for cutting. Of course, as a left-hander he can do the business off his pads. But even when the runs were running dry, as the innings run rate dropped to around two, nothing was overhit. A 30-year old whose time at this level was thought to have run out, clawing it back piece by piece by appreciating he has time.
The century, off 251, was a weight off his mind, and the 60 balls for the next 50 applied it onto England’s. It was only in that final dash that he used his long arms to swing sixes to midwicket and down the ground.
Extra time was afforded to him by Jos Buttler, he should be said. A drop and a missing stumping on 45 were compounded by a drop off Yasir on five with 286 for seven on the board. It wouldn’t cost much – Shah was eventually LBW to Jofra Archer as the first of two in as many balls as Archer nabbed Abbas, too – but an extra 30 runs were put into perspective by the carnage that began the host’s innings.
In fact, maybe it is a disservice to call that incredible opening spell from Pakistan’s quicks “carnage”. That suggests they strolled in and torched the place, instead of the methodical application of plans tailored for the English top order that had them reeling on 12 for three inside six overs.
Rory Burns’ knack of falling over to the off-side when faced with a right-hander coming around the wicket was exploited by the left-arm of Shaheen Afridi coming over to trap him in front on review four balls in. Mohammad Abbas dragged Dom Sibley out wide and then pushed one straight into his pad, too.
The most outrageous of the lot was saved for the one who needed it most. Ben Stokes has been England’s best batter and so it was only right he was saved what might be 2020’s best wicket-taking delivery. As the left-hander advanced, Abbas pulled his length back enough to keep it somewhat out of reach, but full enough so that when the seam directed the ball away from the edge, it would clip the top of off stump on the way through.
They could claim an assist for the dismissal of the England captain. Joe Root, usually chipper with the singles, was pinned down at one point to three from 46 deliveries. His cut off Yasir Shah when on 14 was too close and too full for such a shot. The edge behind very much the product of a strike rotator brought to a standstill.
Pope, though, had no such issue. And if he was impetuous for bits, the importance of his shots came in the manner with which Pakistan’s bowlers finally had something to consider. That seems the best course of action in day three.
Then again, anything that gets you chipping away at a 234 deficit sounds like a plan. Buttler (15 off 27) has a chance to make amends for his own error-strewn couple of days. But both will be going into day three with eyes on saving this Test.