Are we in for a four-day finish? 32 wickets in the last two days have pushed the first Test between England and Pakistan into a fast-forward mode.
Pakistan were all over England after taking a 107-run lead in the first innings. It was the England bowlers who scripted a comeback for their side by taking seven wickets in the final session.
On a pitch that is assisting the pacers and spinners alike, a lead of 244 is already a handy one. But, it is not unreachable by any means. A couple of good partnerships can see England through.
Before all that, they need to take the final two Pakistan wickets as soon as possible.
Report from the third day -
Pakistan 137/8 (44 overs, lead by 244 runs)
14 wickets at an average of 18.9. These are not the bowling statistics of any bowler in this short English summer but, a single-line summary of the third day’s play.
England needed a bowler’s session to have any chance in the Test. They bought one by reducing Pakistan eight down by the end of the day. Blame it on the pitch, the quality of England bowling or just impatience of Pakistan’s batsmen, but this Test match has opened up.
In a mediocre session with the bat, only three batsmen from Pakistan chipped in with a contribution in the twenties. Two of whom, Asad Shafiq and Mohammed Rizwan scored at a strike-rate of sixty plus to keep the ball rolling.
Though helped by some luck, Abid Ali did the hard bit of surviving the opening burst from James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Getting carried away on Dom Bess’s arrival, he top-edged a slog sweep to deep square-leg in his first over. On a pitch that offered him turn and bounce, the two essential ingredients for a spinner, Ali’s dismissal was the only high point of Bess's spell. As he strayed down the leg or bowled short far too often, Pakistan’s middle-order swept and pulled him for four boundaries and cut him for runs aplenty.
Going into the next Test, England is likely to drop a bowler to make way for a batsman. With the spell he bowled in this session, Chris Woakes has made himself un-droppable. Sticking to ‘dangle the carrot’ strategy, he induced an outside edge off Babar Azam to gift his side the most important wicket of the session. Making up for his drop in the second session, a diving Ben Stokes made no mistake at second slip. In a dismissal similar to the first innings, Azhar Ali played all over an inswinger from Woakes that caught him plumb in front.
Post his dismissal, Shafiq and Rizwan got along to stitch a 38-run stand in the next 10 overs. Giving company to Bess, James Anderson had a forgetful session as well. In three of the four overs he bowled, he started with a ball at the batsman’s pads who clipped him for runs. In the remaining one, he started with a juicy half-volley hit down the ground for four by Rizwan.
During the coronavirus lockdown, Dom Sibley shed 12 kilos. The investment in the downtime paid rich dividends on the field. Continuing the bunt and run strategy, Shafiq called Rizwan for a quick single. Running in from point, Sibley was quicker than the non-striker Shafiq and had enough time to gather and hit the stumps. In a turn of fortune, the tactic to keep rotating the strike that worked well on the second day, ended a promising stand today.
In recent years, no success story for England is possible without Ben Stokes. Coming in to bowl in the final 40-minutes or so, he removed Shadab Khan and bounced out Shaheen Afridi. Stuart Broad accounted for Mohammed Rizwan to dismiss the last of the recognized batsman among the visitors.
32 wickets have fallen in the last two days. If the trend continues, the leads seems insurmountable already. For England, the heads will turn towards Stokes as they need a special innings from somebody once again.
Pakistan 20/1 (lead by 127 runs)
Was that an afternoon of the third day on a subcontinent wicket? There was turn, bounce and sometimes even the lack of it. One can expect England to be hospitable to the teams touring during these challenging times. But this is taking it too far.
Crediting only the pitch will be a disservice to Pakistan spinners. After cricket resumed, we witnessed a month of off-spin that usually was to give pacers a break. Today, first Yasir Shah and then Shadab Khan demonstrated why wrist spin is the real deal.
The afternoon session continued to be England’s bane third day in a row. A natural variation from Yasir, the one that does not turns, foxed Jos Buttler and gate-crashed through the tiny space in his forward defence.
Not used to face quality leg-spin, Dom Bess underestimated the bounce. Lunging forward to defend, he had the ball hit the top of his bat and lop to the diving first slip. It seemed as if Yasir will roll through England after Chris Woakes was late on the pull to a faster, short-ish ball to have his stumps rattled.
It was on to Stuart Broad, this time with the bat, to save face for his side. He now averages 91 in the last two innings. Assisting his attacking play after moving towards the leg side with his renewed stance, he scored a quick-fire 29 off 25 balls. In the only over Shaheen Afridi bowled in the session, Broad hit three boundaries , two of which were streaky edges to fine leg and one a smash over mid-off. He slogged a six and a four off Yasir, both had the deep fielders interested. The latter was an easy chance to fine leg, fullfed by Shadab.
Broad first added 27 with Jofra Archer and then 22 with James Anderson, both of whom were victims of Shadab. Archer fell to the bounce while Anderson went overboard with a reverse sweep.
Coming out to bowl, England needed early wickets. Broad obliged after strangling Shan Masood down the leg side. After punishing England with a mammoth score in the first innings, Masood achieved the dubious distinction of getting a 150 and a duck in the same Test. He now joins Imtiaz Ahmed, Hanif Mohammad and Shoaib Malik as the other players from Pakistan to do so.
Taking a cue from his dismissal in the first innings, Broad targeted Azhar Ali’s pads at regular intervals in an unplayable spell. Going into Tea, the Pakistan skipper is stuck at a pair after facing 18 balls.
Anderson could have joined the party if not for a congested slip cordon. An outside edge off Abid Ali had both Joe Root and Ben Stokes, in at first and second slip, interested. Root moved to his right to position himself for the catch, but a diving Stokes reached the ball first and spilled it. Two crisp square cuts from Ali to Anderson after the life only fanned the fumes coming out of Anderson’s ears.
Pakistan has a substantial first-innings lead. With the pitch tailor-made for Pakistan’s spinners, only a collapse will warrant any sort of a comeback for England.
England 159/5 (52 overs, trail by 167 runs)
The weather forecast was for the hottest day of the year in Manchester. After an hour and forty minutes of play, there was a short rain interruption. The heatwave forecasted probably prophesized the intensity of the contest on the third morning.
Neither side budged in the first hour of play. While the Pakistan bowlers offered nothing for the England batsmen to work with, both Ollie Pope and Jos Buttler were no mood throw in the towel.
In 14 overs in the first hour, the two added only 19 runs. Ten of them were through extras. Mohammad Abbas gave away only a solitary run in his spell that included seven overs. Shaheen Afridi tried to create various angles from both sides of the wicket. He did not lose his line even once. Even the young Naseem Shah, averaging around 90 miles an hour, offered no freebies.
The reward for Pakistan came in the third over after drinks. A ball from Naseem had sudden climb from a good length. Not enough time to let it go, Pope tried to fend it with soft hands. Such was the speed with which things progressed that for a moment there was no reaction as the ball carried to gully. Part of the reason for this was the awkward position in which the catcher, Shadab Khan, found himself. Balancing himself on curled legs while throwing his hands to take the catch in front of him.
Naseem welcomed the England number 7, Chris Woakes, with a blow to his helmet. It took him a few minutes to recover from the blow while the supernumeraries in his team helped him find a suitable helmet from two big suitcases.
Naseem followed it up with a pitched up delivery that almost kissed his stumps before Woakes could react. A few ambitious full balls from pacers helped him and Buttler collect four boundaries after Pope’s dismissal.
With Pope gone, England find themselves in troubled waters. Buttler was the top scorer in the series when Pakistan toured there in 2018. After a sloppy innings with the gloves, now would be an appropriate time to stand out with the bat.
In eight of the last nine innings before this, Woakes has failed to reach double figures. He has averaged 11.9 since his century against India at Lord’s 17 innings ago. He is into double figures now and as a number seven, his contribution with the bat is of as much importance as that with the ball.