Dubai, first Test, day two

Yesterday we saw the worst of England, today we arguably saw the best. After the disappointment of not getting a wicket last night England still looked up for it in the field this morning, and troubled the batsmen early. Even when they did not pick up a wicket for the first ninety minutes of the morning session they did not let their heads drop and were rewarded with two before lunch.

England’s intensity never really abated today. It was clearly hard going in the field and England never instigated a proper collapse, but they kept at it and picked up wickets when they most needed them. Pakistan built several partnerships, but England put a handbrake on the scoring after lunch and although the batsmen occupied the crease for some time they never managed to up the scoring rate. To an extent this is how Pakistan, especially Misbah-ul-Haq, play all the time but England’s bowlers played a big role in that as well. They never lost their line, they never got desperate for a wicket they just kept probing away and waited for their reward. It was great to see and it is one of the reasons England are currently number one in the world. It also makes a sharp contrast to what we have seen in Australia with the Indian bowlers giving up as soon as a partnership has started to build. There are two stats in particular that I think show how well England bowled: Pakistan are 174-7 after their opening partnership and they only scored 75 in an evening session that was extended to get all the overs in. That’s under 2.5 an over for over two hours at a time when Pakistan would have wanted to put the game out of reach.

Pakistan deserve credit for accepting the slow rate of scoring instead of riskily trying to up the run rate (as we’ve seen from many other teams just before they collapsed). Their best batsman statistically was Mohammed Hafeez with his 88 at the top of the order, but I think the best innings was actually played by Misbah during that final session. Hafeez batted with the pressure mostly off; England were probing and testing, of course, but they had not yet found the right line and length and the going was more comfortable, especially as the shine was mostly off the ball by then. Misbah had to face the new ball at a time when Pakistan could easily have collapsed if he had got out though. When Jimmy Anderson removed Asad Shafiq Pakistan were only 39 runs in front with only the tail to come and a young, fairly unreliable batsmen at the crease in the form of the wicket-keeper. If England had got either of them out right then we might already be batting, but Misbah played very slowly, very deliberately and guided his partner through a very tough passage of play. He was eventually undone by Swann, but the partnership was worth what may be a very important 52.

The match is now set up quite well for the next three days. Pakistan could still get a very good first innings lead if the tail can stick around tomorrow morning, but England will be backing themselves to knock them over quickly. A lead of 150 may be too much for England, but that’s still a long way off with the bowlers on top of the batsmen. England’s batsmen are unlikely to recreate their heroics of Brisbane, but something similar could be on the cards. Certainly they are unlikely to bat as poorly as they did in the first innings, so if Pakistan are held to a lead of 100-115 and England have a day and a half in which to amass a large total they could be in a position to exert considerable pressure in the fourth innings.

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