But­tler spills it

Wick­et­keeper’s er­rors cost Eng­land

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Nick Hoult Chief CriCket Cor­re­spon­dent

Only the very finest play­ers have en­joyed bat­ting in Tests in Eng­land in re­cent years and Babar Azam al­ready looks as if he will end this se­ries brack­eted along­side Steve Smith and Vi­rat Kohli.

Azam was the stand­out per­former on a day of tightly fought Test cricket only let down by the weather. Rain and gloomy light re­stricted play to 49 overs and when it restarted at 5.45pm fol­low­ing a de­lay of al­most three hours, Eng­land could only bowl spin, with the um­pires deem­ing it too dan­ger­ous for the quicks to come on.

It was ad­mirable that Joe Root al­lowed the game to con­tinue by agree­ing to bowl him­self and Dom Bess, but it just served up easy runs for Azam, who tucked in hap­pily. Pak­istan added 30 runs to end the day in a strong po­si­tion at 139 for two.

Azam played some de­lec­ta­ble cover drives and used his feet against Bess to sweep and hit down the ground. He latched on to any­thing short or wide as he played the most flu­ent in­nings of the sum­mer so far, mov­ing to 69 at the close.

Credit needs to go to Shan Ma­sood, too, for sur­viv­ing a tor­tu­ous start against James An­der­son, when he looked as if he could nick every ball, to scrap his way to 46.

Eng­land’s poor day was summed up by Jos But­tler giv­ing Ma­sood two lives be­hind the stumps, both off Bess. He missed an out­side edge when Ma­sood was on 45 and then three hours later – when Ma­sood was still on the same score – he made a mess of a stump­ing. The sight of Bess turn­ing the ball was good for him, but omi­nous for Eng­land given the two wrist-spin­ners in the Pak­istan side. With the pitch al­ready dry and hot­ter weather fore­cast, Azam can to­day set the game up for Pak­istan.

But­tler’s po­si­tion is al­ways un­der the mi­cro­scope, whether for his bat­ting or keep­ing. His runs in the last Test eased the pres­sure on his place, but af­ter play ended he walked across the out­field back to his ho­tel room with wick­et­keep­ing coach Bruce French con­sol­ing him.

With Ben Stokes un­able to bowl, Eng­land picked an un­changed side, with But­tler bat­ting at six again and he will have to redeem him­self with runs.

Eng­land’s best pe­riod was the hour be­fore lunch when Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer ripped out Abid Ali and Azhar Ali with ac­cu­rate, hos­tile bowl­ing, con­ced­ing only 19 runs in 11 overs. Woakes was the best bowler, out­per­form­ing An­der­son as Eng­land’s pitch-it-up seamer. Archer was in rhythm, hold­ing back his pace to hit a good length or bowl short, forc­ing the bats­men to play or duck.

At 52 for two, Eng­land had con­trol, but their grip loos­ened in a waste­ful hour af­ter lunch when Azam and Ma­sood built their part­ner­ship. Azam had taken 14 balls to make his first run in that tricky last half-hour of the morn­ing ses­sion, but An­der­son’s first ball to him af­ter the break was wide down the leg side. He eased it to the fine-leg bound­ary and was away.

Azam whipped An­der­son off his legs for an­other bound­ary in his next over be­fore tim­ing a per­fect drive on the up through the cov­ers for the shot of the day. An­der­son’s three overs cost 16 runs and he was re­placed by Woakes. Azam hit a Broad full-toss for a bound­ary and drove Archer’s first ball af­ter lunch down the ground for four. This was high-class, at­trac­tive bat­ting.

Archer also bowled some poor de­liv­er­ies to Azam and it was not a fair con­test be­tween young Bess and a bats­man who av­er­ages 103.66 against spin since 2018.

Azam ar­rived in Eng­land with four hun­dreds and a 97 in his pre­vi­ous seven in­nings – and a de­ter­mi­na­tion to prove him­self against the Dukes ball.

Only Kohli and Smith have done that in re­cent sum­mers, both dom­i­nat­ing run scor­ing for their teams. Mar­nus Labuschagn­e was bril­liant in the last Ashes too, but reaped the ben­e­fit of play­ing county cricket that sum­mer to learn the ropes in Eng­land. Azam has just had in­trasquad friendlies to find his feet.

Azhar won the toss and avoided Ja­son Holder’s er­ror of be­ing lured by the over­head con­di­tions into bowl­ing first at this ground. He put faith in his bats­men to sur­vive against Eng­land’s ex­per­tise with the Dukes ball.

In the Broad-An­der­son era, Pak­istan’s open­ers have been easy pick­ings for Eng­land. First-wicket part­ner­ships have av­er­aged 11 (2018), 18.50 (2016) and 17.25 (2010), but Ma­sood and Abid Ali fought through the open­ing hour de­spite of­ten grop­ing at thin air against An­der­son.

Ma­sood played the ball much later, hang­ing back in the crease to give him­self time. Abid went harder at the ball and al­most played on and edged just past gully.

Hav­ing sur­vived the first hour, Abid fell straight af­ter the drinks break, bowled through the gate by Archer.

Woakes then hit the per­fect length, nip­ping the ball around to trap Azhar on the crease lbw. Azhar used the cap­tain’s pre­rog­a­tive of re­view­ing the de­ci­sion, but he was plumb. He just could not ac­cept he was out for a duck and it was a self­ish re­view.

Woakes’s first ball to Azam was an ab­so­lute peach, hit­ting a length and rip­ping past the out­side edge. Pak­istan were just hang­ing in, des­per­ate to sur­vive. Eng­land did not need the lunch break, it took the im­pe­tus out of their bowl­ing and they could not rally.

You know it has been a tough day when the head coach speaks af­ter play. Chris Sil­ver­wood knew where it had gone wrong. “We bowled too many four balls and gave mo­men­tum back to Pak­istan.” Suc­cinct but ac­cu­rate. Eng­land are in a fight.

Eng­land wick­et­keeper Jos But­tler misses an op­por­tu­nity to stump Pak­istan’s Shan Ma­sood, who was 46 not out at the close as the tourists reached 139 for two on a rain-hit first day of the first Test at Emi­rates Old Traf­ford yes­ter­day

Shan Ma­sood is on 45 when he edges Dom Bess be­hind, but Jos But­tler can­not hang on as the ball squirms off his left hand.

Later, But­tler spurns an eas­ier chance as Ma­sood charges Bess and misses. But the wick­et­keeper fails to gather for the stump­ing.

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