The trouble with day one of a Test is that unless one side has had a truly grim day every summary at the end of it revolves around it being too early to say whether the score is a good one, the toss decision is a good one or if the pitch is favouring one side in particular. There are only so many ways to say that it’s in the balance and that after tomorrow we will know more.
Pakistan’s decision to bowl first certainly caused some raised eyebrows, but having bowled England out in a day will have viewed that call as being vindicated. England’s score of 297 is right in the zone of being enough to be in the game but anything but a good score. It could become a good score, if England were to bowl Pakistan out cheaply tomorrow, or it could be a bad score if they go past it – self evident of course, but still how it is. The trouble is, saying as much isn’t about sitting on the fence, there’s nothing but uncertainty around how it will develop from here.
So perhaps the only indication is the relative happiness of the two sides – England trying to convince that it’s not a bad score at all, Pakistan reasonably content with their day’s work. If that is an indicator then Pakistan could be said to have had the better of the day, and instinctively that feels about right, but not so much so that England are at this stage in any kind of trouble. Likewise the strong criticism towards Misbah for electing to bowl had dissipated somewhat by the close, again suggesting that decision had – thus far at least – been vindicated.
Certainly England will be a little disappointed with the total, as much due to how many players got in and then got out again as anything else. Cook started with rare fluency, and while Root’s dismissal was ascribed to overconfidence perhaps the same can be said of the captain. He appeared in outstanding form, and that is so often when the mistakes come. No matter, these things do happen, and all cricketers know the frustration of being back in the pavilion having made an error on a day when they felt they could do as they wished in the middle.
Vince again got in and got out, and again it was his flaw outside off stump that did for him. His 39 was the opportunity to go on and make a meaningful contribution, and he didn’t. He looks good, then he gets out, and while looking good tends to buy a little more patience (unfairly so, of course, but true nonetheless) than for less attractive players, at some point the chances run out. Vince needs a good innings urgently, and he’ll be as aware of that as anyone.
Ballance is the antithesis of the stylish player, yet his 70 was the mainstay of the innings. He scores runs, and while the 142 he’s scored in four knocks he’s since his recall won’t make too many headlines, he looks a far better player than the one dropped last year. What is interesting there is that the technical adjustment appears minimal, and by some accounts he’s proven entirely resistant to attempts by others to tinker with it. Confidence and faith in one’s own game is often far more important. His dismissal was one of those often felt somewhat unlucky, taken down the legside off Yasir Shah by the rather impressive Sarfraz. It was a good catch too, legside catches standing up are always prized by wicketkeepers – more so than stumpings much of the time. The angle did allow that rarity when up to the stumps, time to adjust, but it was a significant deflection, and he will be pleased with that one.
Bairstow pushed too hard at a ball that wasn’t really there to drive off the back foot, and Woakes was probably due a failure. Thus it was Moeen who was principally responsible for getting an unquestionably sub-par 224-6 to a perhaps adequate 297. There may be better batsmen than Moeen around, but there are few as delightful to watch as he is. He has that languid (and frustrating style) that is rather reminiscent of David Gower. One item worthy of note here is that Moeen was today batting at seven. Helped rather substantially by his unbeaten century against Sri Lanka, his average when batting in that position is now over 80. The sample remains far too small to draw conclusions either way, but he wouldn’t be the first player to respond to being in the lower order by batting like a lower order player instead of the batsman that he is.
For Pakistan, the man of the day was quite clearly Sohail Khan – a 32 year old playing only his third Test and his first in nearly five years. His time in the limelight may yet be brief, but there is a special pleasure to be had in seeing an unlikely successful comeback. That he is a right arm bowler may have worked in his favour, after two Tests with solely left arm seamers for England to negotiate. But he bowled well, deserved his success and his evident pleasure (and press ups) leaving the field couldn’t help but raise a smile.
The weather forecast for day two isn’t particularly great, and the England bowlers will hope to make the most of the leaden skies. Yet the England total is not big enough to prove decisive barring something extraordinary. We may well have another good match on our hands.
And finally, the last England wicket fell with five minutes of play remaining, and 86 overs bowled. Once again the required number of overs in the day fell short, even with the additional half hour, and once again nothing will be done about it. Given that, we can assume that the ICC approves of literally shortchanging their paying customers. It remains unacceptable, it remains disgraceful.
Day two comments below