Pakistan 139 for 2 (Azam 69*, Masood 46*) v England
MANCHESTER: Babar Azam and Shan Masood lifted Pakistan on a day punctuated by shifting fortunes on the field and above it as the first match in the three-Test series against England began.
A moment of silence to remember those who have lost their lives in the Covid-19 pandemic before play began under heavy skies put the match in perspective and emphasised the efforts of both countries to stage this contest behind closed doors at Emirates Old Trafford.
Having been in England for a month, preparing in the relative anonymity provided by England’s series against West Indies, Pakistan arrived at their first Test since February as questions swirled over their readiness to face an opposition which has three matches’ worth of competition fitness in them.
By the time rain brought about an early tea and delayed the evening session by nearly three hours, it was batsmen Azam and Masood who looked to be in a groove against a bowling attack that seemed to have turned rusty at lunch.
After his captain, Azhar Ali, won the toss and elected to bat first – opposite number Joe Root said he would have done the same – Pakistan opener Masood withstood a tricky period against Stuart Broad and James Anderson first up, accompanied by Abid Ali in a partnership that was approaching fifty when Jofra Archer entered the attack.
Having rounded off his first over with a couple of steepling bouncers which were evaded well by Abid, Archer struck with the first ball of his second over when he bowled Abid with a beauty through the gate and into off stump, thus ending a patient start by Abid and the partnership on 46.
After a brief rain interruption, Masood settled, guiding Archer through the bare gully region with smart, soft hands for four.
But then Chris Woakes, who had relieved Anderson after five overs, struck with a full delivery that thwacked Azhar Ali on the pad in line and sent him on his way for a six-ball duck, despite his swift call for a review, which only confirmed the lbw decision.
That brought Azam to the crease and he showed his class, somehow escaping a testing first delivery from Woakes that narrowly missed the outside edge and off stump and negotiating the ever-challenging Archer.
But it was against Anderson after lunch that Azam settled into his stride, finding the boundary three times in as many overs to bring his spell to a swift end.
Anderson even became the first bowler to be called for a front-foot no-ball – a rarity for him – by the third umpire in Tests under the new system being trialled during this series when he over-stepped bowling to Azam in the 31st over.
Meanwhile, Masood was enjoying almost as good a time against Broad and, by the time Root turned to Archer and the offspin of Dom Bess, the batsmen were in a decent flow. They put on 78 runs together and, as Azam brought up his half-century off just 70 balls with a punch into the covers off Bess and then passed it with two runs behind square off Archer, the rain hit.
By that stage, Masood had moved to 45 not out, Pakistan had recovered from 43 for 2 to 121 for 2 and the players faced a long stay in the dressing rooms.
Manchester was eventually bathed in bright sunshine but, by the end of mopping-up operations, play resumed under lights with the dim skies back overhead.
Archer, who had bowled one ball before the lengthy stoppage, finished his over with plenty of short stuff, which meant Root was forced to turn back to spin, bringing himself on with Bess.
Masood added just one run, having faced 152 balls – more than any other visiting opener in England since 2016 – for his 46 not out before bad light forced play to be abandoned for the day.
In the course of his innings, Masood had two lives, both from Jos Buttler off the bowling of Bess. On 45, he survived an edge through to the keeper, and he hadn’t added to his score when, after the rain break, he charged at Bess, attempted to hit the ball to the leg side but missed, only to be saved when the ball bounced out of Jos Buttler’s gloves. At the other end, Azam had moved to an unbeaten 69 off 100 balls in a third-wicket stand of 96.