Predicting sporting contests is a fool’s game much of the time, though it remains fun to do. The very essence of sport is that the unexpected happens, otherwise there’d be no point watching or participating. Nevertheless, the degree of certainty so many had that England would prevail in this match before the start was rather peculiar, apparently based on the undoubted hiding that England dished out at Old Trafford. When Pakistan put England into bat, it was called defensive, when England were bowled out on day one, it meant that England would do the same to the tourists on day two. It is as though Pakistan’s victory at Lords never happened, as though they were merely cannon fodder for an all conquering home side to swat aside. Some even predicted a 7-0 Test summer, as though Pakistan were no more of a threat than Sri Lanka.
England are not out of this game by any means, the late wicket of the excellent Azhar Ali made the day slightly less dreadful than it would have otherwise been, and with Pakistan still 40 runs behind the possibility of early wickets in the morning with a still fairly new ball remains. But England desperately need those early wickets for if they don’t get them they are in serious trouble, even if Pakistan are the ones having to bat last. All things being equal, by the time England are batting again, there should be a little more help for the spinners, and one of the notable things about Moeen Ali’s bowling today was that while it wasn’t hugely effective, he was getting bounce occasionally, and bounce is a considerable danger when utilised by an outstanding spin bowler.
It had all started so well, Mohammed Hafeez slapping a wide long hop straight to Gary Ballance at point, but after that it was all Pakistan. Sami Aslam impressed mightily in only his third Test match – and startlingly, he hasn’t played a first class match since December. He looked every inch the Test opener; compact, technically sound and perhaps as important as anything else, he left the ball superbly. England didn’t look like getting him out, so his partner did it for them, running him out with a dreadful call, albeit Sami could have backed up a little more.
Should Pakistan bat well tomorrow, England have another potential problem, for Anderson has received two warnings for running on the pitch and another will see him banned for the rest of the innings. Anderson himself didn’t behave terribly well, and subsequently said that he’d apologised to both umpires. Whether that is enough to distract the match referee remains to be seen.
The not out batsman overnight is Younis Khan, and it is hard to decide whether it is amusing or painful to watch his batting travails at present. He looks hideously out of form and is fighting with himself every ball he faces. His batting technique is all over the place, jumping in the air constantly, weight distribution somewhere around the inverse of what it should be – yet he is still there. To see such an elegant player battling this way is both impressive and worrying given his age. As ever, when a player gets older he is given little time to simply be out of form.
One other small point: the 90 overs were completed today. That it is worthy of comment should in itself highlight the problem.
By the close of play tomorrow England could be in serious trouble, if they aren’t batting soon after lunch it will be a difficult match to win; if they aren’t batting by tea they are in dire straits. Tomorrow is a big day for both teams, but Test cricket can and does turn on a session. England will need the morning to be one of those.
Day Three Comments Below