MANCHESTER: Pakistan captain Azhar Ali ‘missed a trick’ several times in the opening Test against England and their three-wicket loss will hurt the team and their fans, according to bowling great Wasim Akram.
Azhar and his men held the upper hand for most part of the series opener and had England, chasing 277 for victory, reeling at 117-5 at Old Trafford before England fought back.
Jos Buttler (75) and Chris Woakes (84 not out) forged a 139-run stand to help the hosts go 1-0 up in the three-Test series here on Saturday.
“It will hurt the Pakistan team and the cricket lovers in Pakistan,” former captain Wasim, who is commentating on the series, told Sky Sports. “Winning and losing is part of cricket, but I think our captain missed a trick quite a few times in this game, as far as his leadership is concerned.”
Wasim was surprised how Pakistan, who had bowled out England for 219 in the first innings, did not try to bounce out Woakes early.
“When Woakes came in, there were no bouncers, no short deliveries, they let him settle down and runs were coming easy,” said the 54-year-old Wasim. “Once the partnership got going, nothing happened — the turn didn’t happen, swing didn’t happen — and Buttler and Woakes just took the game away.”
Wasim also felt Naseem Shah and Shaheen Shah Afridi, who collectively sent down 28.1 overs in the second innings, were under-bowled. “Pakistan cricket is all about flair, unpredictability and attacking cricket. We’re not county bowlers who are just going to come and bowl line and length all day long.
“We’ve got a 17-year-old [Naseem], who bowls 90mph, a 20-year-old [Shaheen], who is around 88mph, and they should be bowling a lot more overs — 18-20 overs each innings, no matter the situation.”
Azhar, on the other hand, insisted there was all to play when his side were ‘one punch away’ from victory.
It was a particularly bitter defeat for Pakistan as they had been the better side for much of this Test.
But the loss of several wickets late on Friday during an eventual second innings of 169 cost them dear in a match where Shan Masood made a Test-best 156 in the first innings and leg-spinner Yasir Shah took eight wickets in all.
Pakistan, who have not lost a series against England for 10 years, must regroup quickly before the second Test in a three-match campaign starts at Southampton on Thursday.
“It’s disappointing but not over yet, there are still two Tests to go,” Azhar told reporters. “There a lot of positives from this game, we outplayed England on most parts of this Test match.
“I wouldn’t say we lost the match in [our] second innings, but we missed a chance to knock England out of the game there.”
Pakistan, however, were still in command during an England top-order collapse on Saturday that saw four wickets lost for 31 runs.
“We were sure we’d wrap it up if one more wicket fell,” said Azhar. “But they [Buttler and Woakes] attacked from the off and snatched the game away from us. Sometimes you just have to give credit to the opposition.
“We were in control of the game; we were one punch away from finishing the game off, but they came and dominated us during that period.”
Azhar, a specialist batsman, managed just 18 runs in a match where he was out for a duck in the first innings.
But although he has now scored a mere 139 runs in his past 12 away Test innings, Azhar denied captaincy was affecting his batting.
“When I bat, I’m not thinking about the captaincy, whether or not I’m out of form,” he said. “And when I’m captain, I don’t think about my batting at all.”
England captain Joe Root felt confident about his team’s battling qualities.
“We knew it would take something special but after last summer it is very hard to stop believing. It’s a real strong trait of ours,” he said.
“It was a brilliant chase. I couldn’t be more proud of the lads,” Root said. “Jos, it shows the mental strength, to play that situation and manage different passages of it, calculating risks, manipulating the spinner, brilliant innings, and Chris was magnificent too.
“The more important thing is we back it up again, and keep learning, but the clarity with which they played shows the maturity of the group too.”
With England losing four quick wickets after lunch, Woakes and Buttler had no choice but to reel in the target in one-day mode.
The middle-order pair targeted the Pakistan spinners with drives, sweeps and reverse-sweeps as Azhar lost his reviews in desperation.
“When Buttler and Woakes came in and played their shots, they put us under pressure and we couldn’t really answer them,” Azhar said. “So credit to them, they outplayed us in that period. Maybe we were too late to bring fielders up.
“It’s disappointing but not over yet, there are still two Tests to go.”
PAKISTAN (1st Innings) 326 (Shan Masood 156, Babar Azam 69, Shadab Khan 45; S.C.J. Broad 3-54, J.C. Archer 3-59).
ENGLAND (1st Innings) 219 (O.J. Pope 62; Yasir Shah 4-66).
PAKISTAN (2nd Innings) 169 (S.C.J. Broad 3-37).
ENGLAND (2nd Innings):
R.J. Burns lbw b Abbas 10
D.P. Sibley c Asad b Yasir 36
J.E. Root c Babar b Naseem 42
B.A. Stokes c Rizwan b Yasir 9
O.J. Pope c Shadab b Shaheen 7
J.C, Buttler lbw b Yasir 75
C.R. Woakes not out 84
S.C.J. Broad lbw b Yasir 7
D.M. Bess not out 0
EXTRAS (LB-2, NB-5) 7
TOTAL (for seven wkts, 82.1 overs) 277
FALL OF WKTS: 1-22, 2-86, 3-96, 4-106, 5-117, 6-256, 7-273.
BOWLING: Shaheen Shah Afridi 15.1-1-61-1 (4nb); Mohammad Abbas 16-4-36-1 (1nb); Naseem Shah
13-4-45-1; Yasir Shah 30-2-99-4; Shadab Khan 8-0-34-0.
RESULT: England won by three wickets to lead three-match series 1-0.
UMPIRES: R.A. Kettleborough (England) and R.K. Illingworth (England).
TV UMPIRE: M.A. Gough (England).
MATCH REFEREE: B.C. Broad (England).
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Chris Woakes.
SECOND TEST: Southampton, Aug 13-17.
THIRD TEST: Southampton, Aug 21-25.
Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2020