England 281 (Duckett 63, Pope 60, Abrar 7-114) and 202 for 5 (Brook 73*, Stokes 15*) lead Pakistan 202 (Babar 75, Shakeel 63, Leach 4-98) by 281 runs
What’s a team to do when its plans for dominance come to fruition too soon? After their toil for wickets in Rawalpindi, interspersed with manic bursts of batting that bought them time to turn the screw, England found themselves in the polar opposite scenario on the second day in Multan.
The upshot was, that by the close of day two, England had the match – and the series – at their mercy on a surface that promises only to get more challenging as the contest unfolds. After bowling Pakistan out for 202 on the stroke of lunch, a lead of 79, England had extended their advantage to 281 with five wickets remaining by sunset, and with Brook unbeaten on 73 from 106, his third score of real substance of this breakthrough tour.
Overall England pressed along at a purposeful rate of 4.12 an over, faster than any of Pakistan’s three innings of the series to date, but their progress was still significantly more watchful than their first-day 281 had been. And yet, to judge by the early signs of England’s reply, such relative reticence perhaps hadn’t been the original gameplan for this second innings.
After Crawley had taken on Abrar’s arm at mid-on and lost – a fair sign of a team still in a hurry – Will Jacks strode out to bat at No. 3, a position in which he had never before batted in first-class cricket. Watching on from the Sky Sports studio, Stuart Broad speculated that “Lumberjacks” had been promoted to “chop down” the attack, but the ploy didn’t quite pay off. As Abrar entered the attack for the seventh over, he took his match tally to eight wickets with his sixth ball of the innings, as Jacks climbed into a slog-sweep and had his stumps rearranged.
At 25 for 2, England were in slight danger of throwing away their morning dominance, but Joe Root’s arrival at No. 4 signalled a reversion to more traditional tactics in spinning conditions – watchful strike rotation and calm partnership building, as he and Duckett carried their third-wicket stand to 54 from 80 balls.
After his tour de force in Sri Lanka and India two winters ago, Root’s fluency in spinning conditions is a fairly reliable gauge of the challenge of any given surface. And once again, he was not in total command of his brief in making 21 from 35 balls, even though it took a stunning piece of reaction fielding at short leg to prise him from the crease. Crouched beneath his helmet, Abdullah Shafique tracked Root’s positioning for a pre-meditated sweep, then grasped the chance straight off the face of the bat in his outstretched left hand, inches from the ground.
When Brook – Gilbert Jessop’s nemesis at Rawalpindi – opened his latest account with four runs from his first 26 balls, it did seem for a time that England were reformed characters. But inevitably, that staid tempo wasn’t going to suit Brook for long. After drilling Abrar straight back down the ground for his first boundary, he picked off a further seven fours and a six in making 69 runs in his remaining 80 balls before the close.
At the other end, Duckett too stepped up his urgency, though seeing as his second dexterous fifty of the match had come from a perfectly brisk 68 balls, perhaps he had no need to go into overdrive. He had already been egregiously dropped by Babar Azam at midwicket on 69 when his previously disciplined knock ended with a further loss of concentration ten runs later, as he rocked back to pull another Abrar long-hop but was bowled as the ball kept low.
Even when playing within themselves, it seemed England couldn’t fully divorce themselves from drama, as shown when a skittish Pope – down at No. 6 after his wicketkeeping duties – became the second run-out of the innings as he was sent back for a non-existent single to cover. But Ben Stokes quelled his own more expansive urges to reach 15 not out from 24, and the relative lack of jeopardy reflected England’s comfortable dominance of the match situation, having ripped through Pakistan’s first innings to claim their remaining eight wickets for 95 in the morning session, including a pre-lunch flurry of three for none in six balls.
Robinson, the Player of the Match from last week’s Rawalpindi victory, had been a notable absentee from England’s attack on the first day, but made his presence felt from the moment he entered the fray in the 35th over of the innings. Reverse-swing had been a feature of his match-winning spell in the first Test, and sure enough, his second delivery bent back appreciably as Babar leaned into an ill-conceived drive, and crashed into the middle and off stumps.
It was a hammer blow to Pakistan’s hopes of converting their overnight 107 for 2 into a dominant position, and Rizwan’s response to the setback was an innings of deep retrenchment. At the other end, Shakeel at least converted his overnight 32 into a 65-ball half-century, his second in three innings in his fledgling Test career, but with England drying up the runs, his eventual dismissal was an aberration that opened the floodgates.
A fine drive through long-off off Leach seemed to have signalled an upping of Shakeel’s tempo, but it gave way, one ball later, to an awful hoick through the line, as Anderson at mid-on rushed round to his left to cling onto an skewed outside edge. And two overs later, Rizwan was gone as well, beaten by a dipping ripper from Leach that turned and bounced into the top of middle and off from round the wicket. At 165 for 5, the innings was suddenly in freefall.
In theory, the recall of Mohammad Nawaz had added some substance to Pakistan’s lower-middle order. In practice, his response to the mounting crisis was an impetuous skip to the pitch and a scuffed drive to Robinson at mid-off to give Leach his fourth of the innings.
By this stage, Pakistan’s innings had lasted more balls than England’s first-innings total of 281 all out in 51.4 overs, but the lack of intent in their approach had created a level of pressure over and above anything England had felt, even while wickets were falling with greater frequency in their innings.
One delivery later, Root returned to the attack with instant success, as Agha Salman popped a gently looping offbreak straight to Ben Stokes at short mid-on, and Root had two in five balls when Mohammad Ali snicked to Crawley at slip, the chance looping off his back pad as he pressed forward with no conviction.
At 169 for 8 and with lunch approaching, Stokes was in no mood to let up the pressure. Back came Wood for what could have been the final over of the session, and with his very first ball, Zahid Mahmood was smashed on the pad and sent on his way lbw for the third duck of the innings. Abrar then hung around with Faheem Ashraf for a last-wicket stand of 23, but Wood’s return to the attack induced an airy flick to deep midwicket from Ashraf, to wrap up a session that might yet have set up England’s series.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket
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