Pakistan’s seasoned campaigners Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq brought gravitas to their first innings by tea on the opening day of the second Test in Dubai after England had taken three wickets before the hundred was raised.
Younis and Misbah in unison is a familiar sight and their stand, worth 93 runs in 26.5 overs, reminded England that the first-day surface was intent on bestowing its favours on the batsmen. Younis, his half-century secured by the interval, was the slightly more venturesome of the two while Misbah proceeded with stiff stolidity, a headmasterly batsman able to bring discipline to proceedings with a single expression. One imagines he would teach Latin – and be demanding when it came to declensions.
Misbah did not have everything his own way, though. He was struck by short balls from Stuart Broad and Mark Wood, first on the back and then on the helmet, and twice mistimed attacking shots against Adil Rashid and was fortunate to evade a fielder. No matter, he continued as if impervious to anything that life might throw at him.
England bowled with heart and consistency on a surface that looked likely to be a test of their stoicism, just as Abu Dhabi had been before, the moment that Alastair Cook lost what had the makings of an influential toss.
To have three wickets banked one ball into the afternoon was a merciful release for an attack who suspected that once again they would be living on scraps.
Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik were dismissed by lunch – two catches for the short leg Jonny Bairstow – and, although Shan Masood had a half-century logged, when he nicked to the wicketkeeper straight after lunch it meant that James Anderson had dismissed him three times in the series in only 13 deliveries. For a fast bowler to have a bunny is never more needed than in the arid conditions of the UAE.
Masood had been a more secure figure than the unsettled batsman seen in the opening Test in Abu Dhabi, without entirely dispelling England’s notion that he is vulnerable against the short ball.
It was a hot and airless day, flags hanging limply, and an eerily empty stadium echoing to England’s shouts of encouragement as they tried to push Pakistan’s first-innings score in Abu Dhabi – 523 for 8 declared – to the back of their mind. There was a little more pace and bounce on offer than in the opening Test, although it was all relative, and there was also a hint of first-session turn, especially when Moeen Ali’s offspin took the wicket of Hafeez.
That breakthrough came in the first over after drinks, Hafeez, who had kept short leg interested on several previous occasions, deflecting gently to Bairstow via an inside edge as he pushed forward.
Ben Stokes had looked peaky after a pre-match net session, the sun already beating down on his wan complexion and even his tattoos looking a little more washed out than normal, but England had enough faith in his resolve to be confident his stomach bug would not overly affect him. “Not quite fit but a true character,” was the summation of his captain, Alastair Cook, as England named an unchanged side. Pakistan brought in Yasir Shah, their champion legspinner, for Rahat Ali.
Stokes soon had something to hearten him – a wicket with his fourth ball. If Bairstow’s first catch was a gimme, the one that accounted for Malik was something special, an unyielding mind as the ball rapped him flush in the chest and then a spring to his left to hold a rebound with such alacrity that he made it look part of the plan.
England gave six bowlers an airing by lunch. With Stokes’ health compromised, and Mark Wood’s ability to withstand back-to-back Tests somewhat in question because of his persistent ankle trouble, England were quick to introduce Moeen into the attack – as early as the seventh over – in a holding role, so allowing the seamers to bowl in short spells, with Adil Rashid only brought on just before the interval.
Masood met all six bowlers with equanimity. The short ball did not unduly disturb him, as it had in Abu Dhabi, a controlled pull against Wood being the best example of that, and he showed a striking enthusiasm for using his feet against Moeen, not cowed by the loss of two wickets as he danced down the pitch to loft him straight for six and then stroke him to the cover boundary.
The afternoon, though, was claimed by Younis and Misbah. They picked off opportunities with consummate ease, Stokes being England’s most unfortunate bowler as he passed the outside edge more times than he had reason to expect. When Misbah did edge, the ball trundled between first and second slip, reminding the bowler of a slow surface and Joe Root’s stiff back – a condition that might again restrict his potential use later in the match as England’s third spinner.