Alastair Cook faced 528 balls in Abu Dhabi in one of Test cricket’s mammoth innings, but not one of them carried the fortune that he enjoyed half an hour before tea on the second day of the second Test in Dubai when a delivery from Zulfiqar Babar crashed into the base of middle stump with some purpose without dislodging a bail.
Cook, on 27, missed a sweep, leaving the ball to rush into the stumps, lightly brushing his glove and pad on the way, only for Zulfiqar, the left-arm spinner, to discover that immovable batsmen can also be blessed with immovable bails.
Cook was in strikingly good order after his 263 in the first Test, upping the power a notch from Abu Dhabi and even coming down the pitch to smite Zulfiqar over midwicket on one occasion, settling back in his routine to be 46 not out at tea. When an inside-edge against Wahab Riaz also spared him a Pakistan lbw referral on 41, he responded with a crisp pull. With the ever-perky Joe Root in allegiance, England reduced the deficit to 273 by the interval. It was a decent contest on a decent pitch.
Such fortune was welcome for England, who lost Moeen Ali and Ian Bell within five overs of the new ball, Moeen falling to an excellent reaction catch by Shan Masood at short leg – the second great catch under the lid in this Test, following Jonny Bairstow’s chest-assisted effort on the opening day – and Bell caught at slip as he was drawn into playing a ball that left him. Bell’s dismissal came with a cry of anguish as the ball headed towards the keeper’s gloves.
Riaz’s hostility – speeds often in excess of 90mph – caused Root, in particular, some initial discomfort, but England coped well with their first sight of Yasir Shah, Pakistan’s legspinner. He was a busier, more bustling spinner than Adil Rashid, about 10kph faster, a comparatively rotund, slightly dishevelled figure with drying rag hanging out of his back pocket. One sharply turning delivery from around the wicket, which pitched outside Root’s leg stump and which would have missed off stump, told of the challenges that lay ahead.
Pakistan’s batting on day one had belonged to the staunch figure of their veteran captain, Misbah-ul-Haq. Such certainty was hard to find on the second morning as Misbah departed in the opening over and Pakistan’s lower order duly followed, sometimes skittishly. From an overnight 282 for 4, to end the innings at 378 will have left England hugely satisfied.
Asad Shafiq, 46 overnight, was the mainstay of Pakistan’s collapsing innings, last man out for 83, but even his smoothly assembled innings was affected by the malaise. It ended in obvious discomfort as he was struck just above the knee by a low full toss from Mark Wood and, although he batted on, resorted to slogging and was soon picked up at short midwicket. Wood had again been persistently aggressive and whose return of 3 for 39 in 19.5 overs in discouraging conditions represented his best Test figures.
It was a long session, two-and-a half hours, to take Friday prayers into account, and England used it productively: six Pakistan wickets falling for 96 in 28.5 overs, the innings conveniently ending at a time when they had no need to bat before the interval.
Misbah had struck a blow for the over-40s club on the opening day, but perhaps the old limbs were a bit stiff and mind a bit weary on the resumption. Stuart Broad took five balls of the first over to dismiss him, firing in three short balls, letting the fourth go astray down the leg side then finding a full length with the fifth delivery to have him lbw.
It was only the 13th incident of a Test hundred by a batsman of his age, 41, or older, and no Pakistan batsman had previously managed it. It was a classic Misbah innings: long periods of inertia interspersed by sudden bouts of aggression. Many over-40s would recognise the symptoms only too well.
Neither was Wood reluctant to fire in some short stuff as England put the onus on aggression. He was standing up to the task well considering the ankle problems that make him a risky proposition in back-to-back Tests. All England’s seamers had acquitted themselves well, conceding only 2.45 runs per over while the spinners had disappeared for 4.30. Cook might have wished to bowl his seamers a little more, but in such taxing conditions Wood’s vulnerability, Ben Stokes’ stomach bug and James Anderson’s Ming vase qualities argued the case for discretion
Sarfraz Ahmed’s zestful knock came to grief after drinks with a dragged drive to mid-on where Anderson plunged forward to hold the catch. Riaz did not detain England for long, a frenetic visit ending with a top-edged skier to give Anderson a second catch.
Anderson had been warned on the first day for running on the pitch and a second warning followed as the Test resumed. It is a tendency over the past year that has caught the umpires’ attention and somewhat reckless, as far as England were concerned, with the legspin of Yasir lying in wait.
Rashid became the sixth England bowler to take a wicket in the innings when Yasir had a swipe and Stokes held the catch at slip. Zulfiqar then ducked a full-length delivery from Wood, so deceived that his bat missed the ball by several feet, his review (Pakistan had one to use up after all) at least giving the third umpire the chance for a bit of a chuckle.
That left Imran Khan: seven matches, three innings, no run. No other batsman had played more than three Tests without scoring a run. It was time for him to end the tomfoolery.
Shafiq gave him the benefit of a prolonged chat in mid-pitch and then tried to farm the strike. Imran’s first ball, from Rashid, brought a rudimentary leg-side hack which fell a yard short of Anderson at mid-on to cries in unison of “catch”. Then Shafiq was struck by Wood. Imran was not to face another ball. The wait goes on.