Having been thrashed in the Old Trafford Test, Pakistan would have gone into the Birmingham Test low on confidence. At least logic said so. But, with Pakistan you can never really predict what they can come up with. And so, two days into the third Test, they find themselves firmly in control of the Birmingham Test. After keeping England down to under 300 thanks to a five-for by Sohail Khan, Azhar Ali led Pakistan’s reply with a belligerent hundred, as England’s attack was put to the sword. Sami Aslam also impressed with a composed half-century in what was only his second Test.
Ali’s performance was rather remarkable considering he came into the Test under extreme pressure. He had only made a combined total of 39 runs in the first two Tests. As such, England would have been gunning for his wicket early. But, Ali proved that he is made of sterner stuff. He showed the determination needed, and stuck it out till the end of day, almost. Having done all the hard work, he lost his concentration off the last ball of the day, jabbing at one from Chris Woakes to lose his wicket. It was the end England were desperately looking for after a frustrating day in the field.
England, however, have themselves to blame for finding themselves in the position they are after two days of play. They dropped Ali not once but twice, and the number three bat made the hosts pay. Ali was on 38, and was only beginning to blossom when Joe Root failed to hold on to an edge at second slip. They on 69, Ali offered a return catch to Moeen Ali, a tough chance which the off-spinner could not hold on to. Ali went on to compile his 10th hundred by gloving a boundary down to fine leg.
Even as Ali was the standout performer of the day, Aslam’s contribution was equally crucial. Pakistan brought him in to replace the struggling Shan Masood. But, that did not help the visitors get a good start. Mohammad Hafeez’s struggles continued as he was sent back by James Anderson, off the fourth ball of the innings. That was about it as far as joy was concerned for England on the day. Aslam and Ali added 181 for the second wicket to put England on the back foot. For a man playing in only his second Test, Aslam showed commendable composure in alien conditions.
The most striking aspect of Aslam’s innings on the day was the manner in which he left the ball, forcing the bowlers to come close to him. And, when that happened, he knocked them away for runs. He deserved to reach a hundred, but was undone by a poor call from Ali. To his credit, Ali did not let the misfortune affect him. Younis Khan again struggled, as he was constantly beaten, but survived till stumps. With the top order having done its job, it will be up to him and Misbah ul Haq along with the lower order to further Pakistan’s advantage,
--By A Cricket Analyst