England v Pakistan, 1st Test, Day 1: Rain plays spoilsport amidst exciting day’s play

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“Rain, rain go away, let Babar come and play,” were probably the words that were coming to the mind of the Pakistan Cricket supporters, and to an extent, a few England fans as well, who have taken a liking to Babar Azam’s elegant strokeplay.

The rain did eventually go away later in the day, but only after significantly curtailing an exciting first day’s play between England and Pakistan.

Having won the toss, Pakistan captain Azhar Ali elected to bat first against England’s four-man pace attack, despite the cloudy overhead conditions. He probably took the decision keeping the prospect of England batting last against their two leg-spinners; Shadab Khan and Yasir Shah, on a 4th or 5th-day track in mind.

Assisted by the wind, a cloudy sky, and a lively pitch, Anderson and Broad posed as a major threat to the Pakistan openers, Shan Masood and Abid Ali. Despite being slightly wayward at times, the duo were hitting the perfect length, pitching it right around the line of off stump and doing all kinds of things with the ball off the air and off the pitch, beating both the openers’ bat on umpteen occasions.

Runs were extremely hard to come by for the two Pakistani openers, as they rarely got to middle the ball. The boundaries that came in the first hour were either off the edge of the bat, piercing the slip cordon, or clips off the pads.

The introduction of Jofra Archer into the attack proved to be too much for Abid Ali. Having survived for 36 vicious deliveries since morning, he could not keep out the 37th from Archer, who swung the ball back in at good pace, glanced his thigh pad, and went through to peg back his off stump.

Captain Azhar Ali lasted three more tormenting overs, in which he seemed to be all at sea. He was eventually trapped well and truly in front by Woakes, the 5th consecutive time he was dismissed leg before in England. This was the 10th occasion in which he failed to score big outside the sub-continent.

Ali’s dismissal brought Babar Azam out to the middle, and viewers sat upright to see how he approaches the second half of the morning session. He did alright facing 27 balls, scoring 4. Shan Masood, at the other end, was starting to gather some confidence, having found the middle off the bat on a few occasions by then.

 

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Babar’s approach after the lunch break seemed to have changed completely. With Shan Masood providing good support at the other end, occasionally punching the straying deliveries to the fence, Babar decided to take control of things.

The fluent drives, both off the front and back foot, started to flow off his bat, as his strike rate started to improve. Shan Masood did well to face a 100 balls since morning, becoming the first opening batsman to do so in the first innings of a Test match in England since 2016.

After having negotiated with the quicks in sumptuous fashion, Babar Azam took a liking to the floaty off-breaks off Dom Bess, caressing him through the covers for four twice in the 37th over. He then uncharacteristically tried to hit him over the mid-wicket boundary in the 41st over, but the ball landed just inside the boundary. He took a single next ball to complete a well-made half-century.

The heavens finally opened up after threatening to do so all morning, and subsequently, an early tea break was announced. The prospect of further play taking place seemed to be bleak, with the light starting to fade as well, but the players did walk out for a few more overs at 5:45 pm, local time. Due to the lack of light, spinners operated from both ends for the rest of the day, with Joe Root bringing himself on.

Jos Buttler, who has been under scrutiny for not being in good touch with the gloves or bat, was once again under the pump today. After giving Masood a reprieve by failing to gather a faint nick standing up to Bess, he gave him another lifeline shortly before the close of play, when he misread the extra bounce and turn generated from Bess and failed to gather and stump Masood, who had a bad lapse in concentration as he went down the track to launch Bess downtown. The calls for including Ben Foakes in the XI might start to grow louder and louder as the pressure mounts on Buttler.

8 overs and 26 minutes after the restart, the players had to walk off due to bad light. Soon afterwards, play was called off, bringing an end to an impressive first day’s play from both teams.

Brief scores:

Close of play, day 1

Pakistan 139/2 (49 overs)

Babar 69*, Masood 46*, Woakes 1/14