A first-innings lead of 391 against the Pakistan side that had beaten them at Lord’s should have been an occasion for ecstasy among England supporters following the Old Trafford Test. It was a time for bunting in the streets, BBQs on the lawn and dancing in defiance of the squally Manchester showers that long before the end had drained the tension from a prolonged third day.
But as Alastair Cook chose not to enforce the follow-on, England’s utterly dominant position was strengthened to a background of muttering and grumbling that their appetite for a quick kill had not been satisfied. If there was any risk at all in making Pakistan bat again, many could not see it.
Few Test captains put the opposition in again these days without misgivings, but having dismissed Pakistan in 63.4 overs, Cook’s reluctance was highly debatable even allowing for modern trends and the non-stop schedules that make captains reluctant to ask their bowlers to go the extra mile. Understandable, perhaps in the case of Ben Stokes, who had just returned from a knee operation. Others can be tasked with debating the pros and cons more deeply.
England advanced that lead to 498 in 21 overs for the loss of Alex Hales, one player who might have benefited from Cook’s decision as he addresses a tendency to plant his front foot before the ball is released but who fell to Mohammad Amir for 24, an inside edge this time and a frustrated walk off without waiting for the umpire’s decision. Just as disturbingly, Hales has adopted a pencil moustache which gives him the look of a shifty character in a Miss Marple murder mystery.
As for England’s malfunctioning middle order, James Vince and Gary Ballance, neither will get the chance to play a meaningful innings. In fact, with England already in an impregnable position according to Test-match statistics, they might not get to the crease at all.
Whatever the considerations, Pakistan’s captain, Misbah, would nevertheless have allowed himself a moment of satisfaction at the decision. At lunch, with Pakistan having subsided from four down overnight to be 119 for 8, the potential for a three-day defeat felt real, but that calamity was averted, first by a half-century of baleful countenance and stubborn stroke by Misbah, and then by another display of stubbornness by his England opposite number.
Misbah added 60 in 15 overs with Wahab Riaz for the ninth wicket to hold up England after lunch before a top-edged sweep against Moeen was held by Cook at short fine leg. Wahab continued to eye Moeen’s spin, slog-sweeping him for six and then reverse-sweeping him just short of the ropes, before Moeen had him caught at deep midwicket by Hales. Moeen was challenged to prove himself in this Test, but as luck would have it he has so far batted nine balls for 2 not out and bowled 7.4 overs. At least he can claim he has done nothing wrong.
Pakistan’s first innings went from bad to worse as they lost four wickets in the morning session. All four England quicks took a wicket in a session that was interrupted for an hour by rain.
Their starting position was a dispiriting one: four wickets already lost for 57, still 532 runs in arrears. On a cloudier day, there was bounce and zip in the pitch and Pakistan proved unequal to the task.
It took six balls for England to sense that it might be an excellent bowling morning, Shan Masood edging James Anderson on the bounce to Vince at third slip. Masood managed a more controlled boundary off Anderson, clipping off his pads, but a jab at a rising delivery later in the over gave Joe Root an inviting catch at second slip.
Misbah, as one would expect from the old fox, met everything thrown at him with phlegm. He could not disguise his surprise when a back-of-a-length delivery from Broad exploded from the pitch, flew over his horizontal bat, and landed directly in the hands of Cook at first slip. More discomfiture followed from a well-directed bouncer from Chris Woakes in the last over of the morning, which flicked his glove as he jerked his head away in self-preservation and he lost a piece from his helmet in the process. He just got on with it, giving the impression that he had seen it all before.
The rain break interrupted England’s progress, but when they resumed at 12.30pm it was not long before Asad Shafiq fell to a slower offcutter by Stuart Broad, a front-foot drive flying to Hales at backward point.
The most idiosyncratic innings, though, was played by Sarfraz Ahmed, whose slash at two of his first three balls, from Broad, indicated his state of mind. His counterattack lasted 18 balls, 26 riskily assembled, before he edged Stokes to second slip.
All it required was for Woakes to take a wicket for England’s pace bowlers to complete the set. It duly arrived with Root’s third slip catch of the morning – and fourth of the innings – enabling England to go to lunch a ball early.
Woakes had his fourth wicket of the innings, a self-effacing allrounder making a name for himself. Not that he will make much of it: he seems the sort who signs leaving cards in tiny handwriting where he will not get in the way of others. But he has had a fine Test and his haul was a rewarding moment on a day that deteriorated with the weather.