Shoaib Malik marked his first Test appearance for more than five years with a composed unbeaten 124, Mohammad Hafeez fell two runs short of a century of his own, while Younis Khan sealed his place in history by overhauling Javed Miandad’s 22-year-old record to become the leading run-scorer in Pakistan Test history, as England’s bowlers were served notice of the hard graft to come on the opening day of the first Test in Abu Dhabi.
By the close they had chiselled four key wickets, including that of Pakistan’s captain Misbah-ul-Haq, who had made three centuries in as many innings in his last two Tests in Abu Dhabi, but was dismissed this time for 3 in controversial circumstances – umpire S Ravi upholding James Anderson’s review for a caught-behind, despite no overwhelming evidence that the initial not-out decision had been incorrect in the first place.
Malik, however, was still in situ at stumps, having negotiated 230 deliveries in his first first-class innings since November 2014. With a previous best score of 39 in five Tests against England, the last of which was also his most recent outing, at Edgbaston on the infamous 2010 tour, he had been, on the face of it, an insubstantial replacement for Pakistan’s established No. 3, Azhar Ali, who was ruled out of the contest with an infected toe first injured on the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca.
And yet, having forced his way back into the reckoning by averaging exactly 100 in 11 matches since his ODI recall earlier this year, Malik proved to be the rock of Pakistan’s first innings. With 14 fours, the majority filleted through the off side whenever England’s discipline wavered, he showcased the technique, application and acceleration necessary to thrive in the stifling heat of the UAE desert.
The bulk of Pakistan’s first-day total of 286 for 4 were made in his 168-run stand for the second wicket with Hafeez, who was himself making a return to the team having been overlooked for Pakistan’s most recent Test, against Sri Lanka in Pallekele in July. Hafeez had looked nailed on for his ninth Test hundred until Ben Stokes trapped him lbw with the final ball of the afternoon session – an optimistic review proved futile as replays showed the ball was taking out his leg stump.
At 173 for 2, the die was cast for an arduous final session, and sure enough, into the fray strode the imposing figure of Younis, who started the series needing 19 runs to overhaul Miandad’s long-standing record of 8,832 runs. After a cautious start, he climbed into his strokes against the spinners and, in one bludgeoned swing of the bat against Moeen Ali, he struck the six over midwicket that enabled him to leapfrog both Miandad and his predecessor as Pakistan’s linchpin, Inzamam-ul-Haq, who had challenged Miandad’s record back in 2007, only to fall three runs short in his final Test innings.
Younis’ itchy innings continued in a similar vein and it was not a massive surprise when, on 38, he smeared once too often at Broad and picked out Cook at short straight mid-on, a cunning fielding position from a captain who has begun to find his feet as a tactician in the past six months.
There was little Cook could do, however, about the moments that got away from him and his team, and three vital let-offs – one each for Shoaib and Hafeez, and another for Asad Shafiq in the penultimate over of the day – cruelly undermined a determined day’s work from England’s six-man attack.
The need for the fielders to capitalise on every opportunity had been drummed home by their assistant coach, Paul Farbrace, in the wake of two fallible fielding efforts in their warm-up games in Sharjah last week. But the advice might as well have been a mirage, in particular to Ian Bell, whose two dropped chances at slip spoke of a cricketer who, to judge by his comments after the Ashes win, isn’t entirely convinced of his continued hunger.
The first moment came in just the seventh over of the morning when Bell, at second slip, dropped a regulation edge when Hafeez had made just 7.
England at that stage were on something of a roll. Anderson, restored to new-ball duties after being ruled out of the final two Ashes Tests with a side strain, had already drawn level with Wasim Akram on 414 Test wickets by bowling a shocked Shan Masood off his grille with his first short ball of the day.