Pakistan take control of third Test against England as Azhar Ali hits century

It is fair to say Jimmy Anderson did not see the funny side when Azhar Ali reached his first Test century outside Asia and compounded England’s misery with 10 of the press-ups that have become Pakistan’s trademark celebration.

Just about everything had gone wrong by then for a leader of the England attack whose face was a picture of grumpiness when Azhar held up play with a joyous gesture that summed up Pakistan’s unexpected third Test superiority.

This was a nightmare for an England side who, so far at the Edgbaston ground they consider a fortress, have been out-bowled, out-batted and out-fielded by a Pakistan team inching ever closer to their own piece of cricketing history.

At the centre of it was Anderson, who flirted ever more dangerously with disciplinary action by clashing repeatedly with the umpires and reaching boiling point as Pakistan threatened to take complete control of this Investec series.

By the close of a second chastening day, Pakistan had reached 257 for three, just 40 behind, Azhar falling to the very last ball, and England were searching for answers to the serious questions that have been raised by their woeful display in a Test they started as firm favourites.

Not only have England been second best in every way but they have been inexplicably flat just a week after they dominated at Old Trafford and petulant both in their response to Pakistan’s dominance and their attitude to officialdom.

First Anderson snatched his jumper from umpire Joel Wilson and exchanged words with him and then, after changing ends, twice clashed with the amiable Bruce Oxenford after being officially warned twice for running on the pitch.

It would be a surprise if his behaviour has not alerted match referee Richie Richardson, not least because Anderson is already on a warning after being reprimanded for his behaviour against Sri Lanka at Lord’s earlier this season.

Anderson, it should be said, made a point of shaking Azhar’s hand when the teams left the field for a brief rain break and then appeared to apologise to Oxenford on the resumption but by then the damage could well have been done.

A suspension for their leading bowler would just about put the lid on what has been a miserable couple of days for England, especially if Pakistan go on to become the first Asian team to ever win a Test at this most English of grounds.

Not that Edgbaston has provided an ‘English’ pitch, as much of England’s frustration has certainly stemmed from a surface that could have been ordered by Misbah-ul-Haq to suit a Pakistan team undone by Old Trafford’s bounce.

Last year Edgbaston was perfect for England’s seamers and, with Anderson and Steven Finn to the fore, Australia were despatched within three days and the spark that was to lead to an unexpected Ashes triumph was ignited.

Maybe the memory of two days lost revenue played on the mind of Warwickshire’s new chief executive Neil Snowball because here was a low, slow pitch that seemed to be designed to ensure play stretched to the weekend rather than suit the home side.

It is a mitigating circumstance and it is fair to say neither Pakistan nor India would ever produce a pitch that suited England but it should not be offered as an excuse for an England team who need to be able to cope with all conditions if they are to return to the top of the world rankings.

They could not have asked for a better start to the day when Mohammad Hafeez slapped Anderson’s fourth ball straight to Gary Ballance at point and it seemed as though England’s 297 might not have been too bad a score after all.

It turned out to be a complete mirage. Instead of motivating England to roll Pakistan over, Azhar, who has struggled in England before now, and a 20-year-old in only his third Test in Sami Aslam showed the home side how to play.

There was a discipline about Pakistan lacking in England’s batting and a purpose epitomised by Aslam’s very first ball when he scampered a well judged single and went on to play with a maturity that belied his inexperience.

Only when Azhar called Aslam for a suicidal single at odds with their running throughout a partnership of 181 and saw the young opener run out for 82 by a direct hit from James Vince did Pakistan’s second wicket pair falter.

Quite how the hapless Shan Mahsood has been keeping Aslam out of the side up to now is a mystery but perhaps finally Pakistan have found an answer to the opening problem that has dogged them, particularly outside Asia.

Azhar was not quite as assured and twice offered chances to an England side who again lacked dynamism in the field in the absence of Ben Stokes, who seemed to inspire everyone around him in that thumping Old Trafford victory.

Joe Root, the master of Manchester, was brought further back down to earth when he dropped Azhar on 38 off Anderson and then Moeen Ali could not keep hold on a drive off his own bowling offered by Azhar, who finally succumbed to Chris Woakes for 139 to give England an unexpected boost at the very end of the day.

It still leaves England staring down the barrel and Anderson waiting anxiously to see whether he will even be able to play at the Kia Oval next week. And that is a sobering thought as England try to get themselves out of this mess.

Courtesy Daily Mail

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