Pakistan captain Azhar Ali insisted there was all to play for following a dramatic three-wicket loss to England in the first Test at Old Trafford, where his side were "one punch away" from victory. England, chasing a target of 277 -- only one higher total has been achieved to win in the fourth innings of a Test at the Manchester ground -- were in trouble at 117-5. But a sixth-wicket stand of 139 between player of the match Chris Woakes, who finished on 84 not out, and Jos Buttler (75) changed the course of the game during Saturday's fourth day.
It was a particularly bitter defeat for Pakistan as they had been the better side for much of this Test.
But the loss of several wickets late on Friday during an eventual second innings of 169 cost them dear in a match where Shan Masood made a Test-best 156 in the first innings and leg-spinner Yasir Shah took eight wickets in all. Pakistan, who have not lost a series against England for 10 years, must regroup quickly before the second Test in a three-match campaign starts at Southampton on Thursday.
"It's disappointing but not over yet, there are still two Tests to go," Azhar told reporters.
"There a lot of positives from this game, we outplayed England on most parts of this Test match.
"I wouldn't say we lost the match in (our) second innings, but we missed a chance to knock England out of the game there."
Pakistan, however, were still in command during an England top-order collapse on Saturday that saw four wickets lost for 31 runs. "We were sure we'd wrap it up if one more wicket fell," said Azhar.
"But they (Buttler and Woakes) attacked from the off and snatched the game away from us. "Sometimes you just have to give credit to the opposition."
"We were in control of the game; we were one punch away from finishing the game off, but they came and dominated us during that period."
Azhar, a specialist batsman, managed just 18 runs in a match where he was out for a duck in the first innings. But although he has now scored a mere 139 runs in his past 12 away Test innings, Azhar denied captaincy was affecting his batting. "When I bat, I'm not thinking about the captaincy, whether or not I'm out of form," he said. "And when I'm captain, I don't think about my batting at all."
Not up to the challenge
He said Pakistan failed to match up to the challenge thrown at them by England on the fourth day at Old Trafford, leading to their three-wicket defeat. "It's been a wonderful Test, disappointing to be on the wrong side of it. We had our opportunities to bat England out of the game, We lost run-outs which are a crime in Test matches, but this total should have been enough," Ali said after the match.
"They took the game on and the pitch started to do nothing. They changed the momentum and we couldn't reply what they threw at us."
Buttler (75) and Woakes (84 not out) stitched a brilliant 139-run stand for the sixth wicket to help England chase down 277 and win the first Test by three wickets on Saturday.
"I would give credit to their partnership, tough to keep the field up and the boundaries dry. One of the best innings of recent past was Stokes v Australia and this one is not far behind because conditions were tough," said the 35-year-old captain.
"Surprised there wasn't reverse swing, but there was enough there, when we had five wickets we were happy with our discipline, but the partnership changed everything."
Ali said playing in front of a packed house would have been more enjoyable for both the sides, which was not possible in view of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. "But watching at home on TV, they (fans) will have been entertained, and we're happy to be a part of it."
'Couldn't be more proud'
England captain Joe Root said he knew a special innings or a partnership would be needed to chase down the target of 277. "Couldn't be more proud of the lads, approach was outstanding and that partnership was magnificent. We knew it would take something special but after last summer we knew not to stop believing. It's a real strong trait of ours," Root said.
"Jos, it shows the mental strength, to play that situation and manage different passages of it, calculating risks, manipulating the spinner, brilliant innings, and Chris was magnificent too."
Man-of-the-match Chris Woakes said the condition of the pitch left him and Buttler with no choice but to play a counter-attacking game. "After that ball that Ollie (Pope) got, we knew that was the way to go on this pitch. It made up our minds for us, and worked into our hands, take it to them and put them under pressure," Woakes said.
"I was second fiddle to Jos (Buttler), I'd have loved him to be there to the end. One of the best white-ball players in the world and one of the best run-chasers. Today he showed why."
Talking about the four wickets he also took in the match, Woakes said, "It's pleasing to pick up the big scalps. I feel really good with the ball, not much cricket coming into the series, but found good rhythm and I hope that can continue."
(With inputs from PTI)