Last time Pakistan played a Test match at Edgbaston, in 2010, they found it a bruising experience.
Their first innings was a particular ordeal: all out for 72 as England’s pacemen sowed the seeds of a nine-wicket victory. Roared on by the Hollies Stand, James Anderson took four for 20, Stuart Broad four for 38 and Steve Finn two for ten. Pakistan were pummelled.
Today was payback time.
Suppliers of so much maverick, mystical charm in Test cricket over the years, today Pakistan showed their pragmatic side.
They batted with relentless patience to draw the sting from the seamers and were untroubled by the spinner.cite=
In reply to England’s 297, the tourists closed the second day on 257 for three, having responded to the loss of a wicket from the fourth ball of the day with such resolve and concentration that the next wicket fell after tea.
Azhar Ali, who contributed a 32-ball duck to that 72 six years ago, and Sami Aslam, a 14-year-old schoolboy back then, added 181 in 62 overs. They batted with relentless patience to draw the sting from the seamers and were untroubled by the spinner.
It took a run out to part them when Azhar pushed a Chris Woakes delivery into the off-side, called for a single that wasn’t there and Aslam (82 from 176 balls with nine fours and a six) was run out by James Vince’s direct-hit.
The error did not alter the flow of the day. Azhar advanced to his tenth Test century and reached a highly-accomplished 139 (293 balls, 15 fours, one six) before edging the last ball of the day, from Woakes, to Alastair Cook at slip.
Azhar was warmly applauded back to the pavilion by a fair-minded 16,000 crowd. England will hope a near-full house 23,500 tomorrow will inspire their bowlers to greater heights.
England had a brilliant start with a wicket from Anderson’s fourth ball which Mohammad Hafeez slapped low to Gary Ballance in the gully. It was the perfect start but the batsman contributed to his own downfall. For the next five hours, Aslam and Azhar made no such errors.
Azhar progressed relentlessly against a bowling attackcite=
It was good, old-fashioned Test-match batting as the pair scored 72 runs in 27 overs before lunch and 82 in 28 between lunch and tea. There was little extravagance but abundant skill, abetted, in Azhar’s case by reprieves on 38 and 68 when he was dropped by Joe Root (at second slip off Anderson) and Moeen Ali (a tough return catch).
A maiden Test half-century secured, Aslam was eyeing a ton when torpedoed by his partner’s dodgy call. But Azhar progressed relentlessly against a bowling attack reduced to little more than perseverance and was soon celebrating his century with press-ups.
The 31-year-old was within seconds of leaving the field unbowed when Woakes, still charging in at the very end of a gruelling day, located the edge that supplied his first Test wicket.
That supplied some belated joy for England but they need to strike further blows quickly in the morning.