So at the end of Day 3, England are still in with a squeak, probably no more than that as a 4th innings score of over 150 has only ever been chased down at Old Trafford twice before, but a squeak nonetheless.
The nature of the line-up that England picked meant that in all reality both Pope and Buttler needed to go on this morning with at least one of them making them a ton; however the Pakistan bowling line meant that this was always going to be a tough ask. Too tough an ask as it proved to be. The morning session was one of those nip and tuck sessions where each of the Pakistani fast bowlers asked some serious questions of the English batsmen, who played and missed at more than a few deliveries. Eventually it took the precocious 17 year old quick, Naseem Shah, to get rid of Pope with a delivery that reared off the pitch and struck the top of Pope’s bat providing a comfortable catch for the slip fielder. I don’t know how and where Pakistan keep finding these young bowling superstars, but it’s a real breath of fresh air to watch someone so young, bowl with such hostility and maturity at this level. Let’s just hope Pakistan provide him with the right support and structure to let him grow and not ruin him like did with Mohammad Amir.
Still England made it to lunch relatively unscathed and with Buttler and Woakes still at the crease there were some hopes that England could somewhere near Pakistan’s total. Unfortunately our ineptitude against leg spin again proved England’s downfall. Buttler, Woakes and Bess quickly fell to Yasir Shah and whilst there was a fun cameo between firstly Broad and Archer and then Broad and Anderson, it was only going to be a matter of time before England were bowled out. The way Buttler got out in particular is a reflection of his time as an International cricketer, failing to pick a straight delivery after a scratchy, but gritty 38. I have been fairly vocal on my thoughts on Jos as a Test player and nothing I saw today has changed that opinion, but I do feel a bit sorry for the guy; I mean he isn’t the one that keeps picking himself. Buttler is a world class white ball batsman, but in truth, even in county cricket, he has never shown much aptitude against the red ball, something that 6 career red ball centuries clearly shows and for me he simply doesn’t look like a Test player. This isn’t to say he isn’t trying as today’s innings showed, where he put away his natural game and tried to grind out a score, but I genuinely feel it’s got to the stage where it’s not doing the player or the team any favours. It naturally didn’t help that Mohammad Rizwan gave him a lesson in how to keep wicket to both the spinners and the seamers, especially considering he gifted Pakistan over 100 runs in the field with his poor keeping in the first innings. Buttler might be a great team man and Ed Smith is definitely a stubborn supporter, but something has to give and now is the right time to take him out of the firing line.
It would also be churlish of me not to give Yasir Shah some rightful praise. He can look innocuous at times and does bowl some absolute dross, but he always seems to have an impact in the game and regularly takes wickets. It just shows the different mentality both sides have with regards to their spin bowling options with Pakistan happy for their spinner to concede runs if he can bowl wicket taking deliveries often and England happy for their spinner to keep it tight and take the odd wicket. Unfortunately that’s always been our mindset and I can’t see it changing anytime soon.
So with a deficit of 107, England needed wickets and quickly and for once they actually got them. Broad strangled Masood down the leg side for a duck, a sobering reminder of the fickle nature of the Cricketing God’s after his first innings and then Bess had Abid caught on the boundary with the sort of hoick that even Shannon Gabriel would have been embarrassed with. Woakes then continued his fine form by removing both Babar and Azhar quickly leaving Pakistan wobbling at 63-4 before a decent partnership between Shafiq and Rizwan steadied the ship. Indeed they looked to be taking the game away from England before a typical suicidal run synonymous with the Pakistani team removed the former before they could do any more damage. Indeed England should rightly be disappointed that they didn’t have Pakistan in a worse position after yet more sloppiness in the field with both Abid and Shafiq the beneficiaries of dropped catches, though one could easily argue that the Anderson drop was a mighty tough chance. Still England will look back at those drops with more than a tinge of regret after Rizwan and Shadab benefitted from some poor bowling from both Bess and Anderson before England desperately turned to a half fit Ben Stokes who did what Ben Stokes does and trapped Rizwan LBW in his 2nd over. Broad then removed Shadab and a visibly limping Stokes removed Shaheen but a few lusty blows from Shah allowed Pakistan to take the lead to an improbable but not impossible total of 244 with 2 wickets remaining.
Pakistan are without doubt in the box seat and England need to take the last remaining 2 wickets in double quick time if they are to stand any chance of winning this match on a pitch that is taking serious turn. This should be Pakistan’s game to win but it’s not quite a done deal yet. We should have those answers on which way the game is going pretty early on Day 4.
As ever thoughts and comments are much appreciated.