England’s bowlers produced an excellent all-round display to dismiss Pakistan inside the first day in Sharjah, having been put into the field for the third time in the series. James Anderson and Stuart Broad were outstanding, collecting immaculate figures of 6 for 30 between them, and there was also a surprise starring role for Samit Patel, playing his first Test in three years.
Misbah-ul-Haq, batting in the debonair fashion that has characterised his series, did his best to thwart England once again with a composed 71, his fourth 50-plus score in a row. That was the difference between Pakistan being routed and posting a total that could yet keep them in a low-scoring game. England will be buoyed by the knowledge that the side batting second has won the last two Tests in Sharjah but they will also know that, unless they produce a significant first innings, they will have to bat last on a surface that has spun from the outset.
Pakistan’s last five wickets fell for 38, as Anderson and Broad rounded up the innings with the second new ball, Misbah steering the former to slip to be ninth man out. England were clearly in the ascendency after knocking over the top half of the innings a little beyond the halfway stage of the day but Misbah, in his inimitable block-block-bash style, and Sarfraz Ahmed had forced them back during a stand of 80 in 26 overs.
Alastair Cook and Moeen Ali then negotiated an over apiece as England launched their reply before the close, Moeen slog-sweeping Yasir Shah for a boundary to end the day with a statement that his side are intent on levelling the series at the last.
If the excellence of Anderson and Broad was to be expected, the contribution of Patel, selected as part of a three-man spin attack, was not. Patel bowled more overs than anyone else, picked up two wickets and took a catch. The delivery that turned off leg stump to bowl Wahab Riaz was a beauty – though ominous for England at the same time – and his display was as unexpected as finding an English country pub, with logs on the fire and pork scratchings behind the bar, nestled in among the glass, steel and sand of the UAE.
The surface at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium had recently been relaid and it proved to be a conundrum for all involved. Pakistan had decided the conditions did not warrant a third spinner, with Misbah venturing at the toss that it “might not turn”; Cook was more convinced after England had played their two warm-up matches on the same ground.
The early evidence was that the pitch was markedly more receptive to spin than either Abu Dhabi or Dubai but, counterintuitively, it was England’s seamers who had greater success. Perhaps, to invert one of Shane Warne’s dictums, “if it spins it seams”. Either way, Pakistan were left in a quandary of their own at 116 for 5, by far the weakest first-innings foundation in the series so far.
They were rescued, somewhat, by Misbah and Sarfraz. Neither was afraid to hit the ball in the air but nothing went to hand until Sarfraz slapped Moeen straight to deep midwicket just as England were beginning to feel frustrated.
A chance, if you could call it that, had gone the way of Ben Stokes a few overs before, only to leave him lying in obvious pain after apparently dislocating his shoulder. Sarfraz, on 36, slapped a Patel full toss behind square, seemingly past Stokes at short fine leg – only for him to fly Trent Bridge-style, almost perpendicular, and get his left hand on the ball. He could not hold it, however, and in tumbling to the ground Stokes jarred his right shoulder into the turf; after several minutes of treatment, he was led from the field by two of the England medical team with his right arm in a makeshift sling.
That was height the England’s pain. They had removed both Pakistan openers before lunch but rather than steel themselves for an afternoon of toil – as had been their fate in the first two Tests – greater rewards were quickly forthcoming.