Buttler spills it
Wicketkeeper’s errors cost England
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.