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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Yasir Shah helps Pakistan nudge ahead on Day 3 but England fight back

Pakistan's second innings lies in tatters at 137 for 8. But in the larger frame, the tourists are still ahead in the match, after they contained the hosts to 219 in the first innings, thanks largely to Yasir Shah’s four wickets with a cumulative lead of 244 runs at the end of Day 3.

Written by Sandip G | Updated: August 8, 2020 7:50:40 am
yasir shah, england vs pakistan, england vs pakistan test, pakistan vs england test scores, pakistan vs england wickets, yasir shah wickets Yasir Shah (4/66) celebrates on Day 3 (Twitter/PCB)a

The third day ended chaotically for Pakistan — their second innings lies in tatters at 137 for 8. But in the larger frame, the tourists are still ahead in the match, after they contained the hosts to 219 in the first innings, thanks largely to Yasir Shah’s four wickets, and wrapped the evening with a cumulative lead of 244 runs. The leg-spinner would again be their go-to man when England begin the fourth-innings chase.

If not Shah, the destroyer could be any one of Pakistan’s well-rounded crew of bowlers.

This is supposedly the generation of batting technocrats, of their vaulting ambitions and cutting-edge craftsmanship. But this is also the era of bowling packs; Australia have an axis of exemplary fast bowlers complemented by the exceptional off-spinner Nathan Lyon. India have unarguably the most potent assemblage of bowlers in their history. Apart from a quality spinner, England have fostered a match-winning group themselves, as they demonstrated yet again on Friday evening, when their team was on the precipice. Pakistan, too, can boast of a fine group with varied skills.

Through the tall Shaheen Shah Afridi’s left-arm angle and swing, Mohammad Abbas’s accuracy and seam-movement, the ability of Naseem Shah to whip up devilish speed and Yasir Shah, tying up an end and yet still attacking in the process, almost every base is covered. And on such days as these when they function collectively, there is so much to enjoy and admire about Pakistan.

If Shah emerged Pakistan’s most successful bowler, and he bowled with fabulous control and guile, it could have been anybody’s day. Abbas’s morning burst was fruitlessly magisterial. He repeatedly beat Jos Buttler’s tentative forward thrusts with fractional seam movement and clever change of angles. Afridi showed he could switch from a mid-80s workhorse to 90mph shock bowler without a discernible change in action.

Naseem cranked up the pace and married it with sharpness. He purchased more bounce from the good length than his colleagues. One such delivery consumed Ollie Pope, the best England batsman so far in this Test. Compact in technique and composed in his head, even he couldn’t deny an inevitable nick when the teenager made the ball roar off a length. He could have nabbed him earlier in the day too, when a ripping delivery slithered past Pope’s outside edge. Or when he went wide on the crease and curled an out-swinger like a bracket. But in most instances, Pope was well-equipped to deal with him.

Vivifying passage

It was the most vivifying passage of the day — an exciting young batsman encountering a rookie tearaway. Pope had clinched the bout on Thursday, stroking him for four boundaries, but Shah won the Friday knockout. But this could just be the start of an era-defining rivalry. Pope was gutted because he fell just at a time when England seemed to have waded safely through the choppy waters. Then this is the damage pure pace can inflict. It can strike unnoticed and turn matches on its head.

Thereafter, it was the usual story of England batsmen haplessly trying to decode leg-spin, as they had been for ages. Eight balls into the second session, Shah snuck his wrong’un through Buttler’s defence, before he found the shoulder of Dom Bess’s bat with extra bounce. Chris Woakes was undone by a flipper he tried to pull. Had not Stuart Broad freewheeled —adding 49 runs with Jofra Archer and James Anderson — England would have ended up surrendering a sizeable lead and chasing a lost cause.

Later, when England’s turn came to bowl, they put in spirited shifts to keep Pakistan’s progress in check. Especially the understated Woakes, who prised out the prized scalps of Babar Azam and Azhar Ali, the middle-order pillars of Pakistan. A delicious leg-cutter dislodged Azam while Ali played across an in-ducker. He plugged away commendably, combining accuracy and movement with a bit of bounce. Subsequently, Pakistan lost their last four wickets for 36 runs. If England are still in the match, they probably owe it to Woakes and Co.

Brief scores: Pakistan 326 & 137/8 (A Shafiq 29; C Woakes 2/11, B Stokes 2/11, S Broad 2/23) lead England 219 (O Pope 62, J Buttler 38; Y Shah 4/66) by 244 runs

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