England v Pakistan
Day 2, Edgbaston
Pakistan 257 for 3 (Azhar 137*, Sami 82) v England 297 (Ballance 70, Sohail 5-96)
England just about made amends for their sloppy catching on Day 2, as Cook pouched Azhar Ali off the very last ball of the day. Pakistan now trail by 40 runs in the first innings, ending the day at 257 for 3, powered by an Azhar Ali 137 and Sami Aslam’s 82. So far, England have been outplayed over the first two days in Edgbaston, and the two changes Pakistan made for this Test have worked wonders. If Sohail Khan’s first Test 5-for set up things on Day 1, 20-year old Sami Aslam’s maiden Test fifty was a lesson in composure and control for some of his teammates.
On a day with three innings, spread over two Test matches played across the globe, produced identical starts of 0 for 1, it was James Anderson who gave England the perfect start this time, getting Hafeez to fish at one that was on the seventh-eighth stump area. Hafeez has much to ponder over his Test batting credentials in general, and this was nothing short of harakiri, to a ball that had “leave me alone” stamped all over it.
Azhar and Sami came together, and every ball from both over and around the wicket was dealt with great control from the pair, soft hands ensuring edges did not fly to the cordon. When the chances came, like the one immediately after lunch, England, Joe Root first and Moeen Ali later, failed to latch on to them. Azhar Ali survived both times, and as the afternoon wore on, every mistake from England’s bowlers was punished. Half volleys outside off were dispatched to the cover-point fence and flighted teasers from Moeen were feasted upon by the duo. Sami, circumspect for large swathes of the morning, danced down the track multiple times, ensuring Moeen never settled down.
Pakistan went to tea at 154 for 1, Azhar egging Sami on to lead the way into the dressing room. The latter might be a newbie at this level, with just two Tests to his name, but until recently, he was the highest run-getter of all-time in Under-19 cricket. In blustery conditions, his discipline was on view, before unveiling shots around the wicket when there was a chance to accelerate. Eventually, though, Pakistan did as only Pakistan can, misjudging a non-existent run, as James Vince hit bulls eye, swooping in from cover. Sami Aslam went for a well-made 82, an innings he will look back both with fondness and dissatisfaction, having wasted a chance to register his first Test ton at the age of 20. In any case, it was a statement to the management, and he should start at The Oval next week, ahead of Shan Masood.
Azhar, joined by a wobbly Younus Khan who started off trying to flick outswingers to the mid-wicket fence, went on to reach his 10th Test hundred, his first outside Asia. Not surprisingly, the push-ups and military salute were on show once again, followed by the trademark sajda. Rain intervened and paused proceedings with 11 overs to go, and the pair were largely untroubled when play resumed, until the final ball, when Woakes forced an edge off Azhar. In the end, a desperate day ended with a glimmer of hope for England, who have all the chasing to do if they are to go up in this series for the first time.