Shan Masood and Babar Azam shine in the gloom for Pakistan against England
Unbeaten batting pair guide tourists to 139-2 on opening day of first Test shortened by rain and bad light in Manchester
Quite whether a player can still be in a rich vein of form when they have been in lockdown for the best part of half a year is open to debate.
But Shan Masood and Babar Azam both picked up precisely where they left off the last time they played Test cricket, as Pakistan had the better of a staccato first day back playing.
England might not recognise this version of Masood. The last time they saw him, four years ago, he was a walking wicket who James Anderson more or less just had to look at to send him scuttling back to the pavilion.
Masood has improved out of sight since then, and has
centuries in each of his previous two Test matches – the most recent being in February – to show for it.
That said, even the newly-confident opener might have felt trepidation after his captain had opted to go straight in to face Anderson and Co under murky skies in Manchester.
Masood needed some luck, and not just against Anderson, with Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes darting the new ball in the air and off the seam.
He was spared twice by Jos Buttler, England’s wicketkeeper, off the off-spin of Dom Bess. First he edged behind, but Buttler grassed the chance.
Later, after a lengthy rain delay, he grew impatient with his half-century in sight.
He charged down the wicket, aimed a heave at Bess, and missed – but the ball hit Buttler’s shoulder instead of gloves.
It left Masood on 46 not out as bad light curtailed the final session of the day, with Pakistan on 139-2 off the 49 overs that were possible.
While Masood was watchfully stitching together his own resistance, at the other end Babar was playing a different game to everyone else – as has become typical of him.
This tour has been prefaced with a debate over whether or not it will be the time when Babar vaults into the select group of the world’s leading batsmen.
How it can possibly be thought he is not among them already seems peculiar.
His Test average in the past two years is higher than Virat Kohli, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, or anyone else for that matter.
He has hundreds in four of his past five Tests, and looks well placed for another in this one, too. The 25-year-old right-hander has made 69 not out from 100 balls so far.
While the start is promising for Pakistan, they need as much as they can get from their batsmen, given they have a long-looking tail.
They have opted to play two leg-spinners – Yasir Shah and Shadab Khan – as well as they exciting pace trio of Mohammed Abbas, Naseem Shah and Shaheen Afridi.
Published: August 5, 2020 09:58 PM