Misbah fights on England’s day

Misbah’s cussed resistance stabilised Pakistan after they lost 4 for 103, riches that England could not have dared to anticipate after losing the toss. By the close, Misbah had batted 220 minutes for an unbeaten 83 and did not look remotely sated. England will rue the let-off they gave him on 30 when Monty Panesar turned one from around off stump to find the edge but James Anderson uncharacteristically was slow to react at slip and missed the chance.

When Misbah was provoked into aggression, it was Panesar who provoked it. Misbah struck him for four sixes, all more-or-less straight, in two batches of two, the last two remarkable for the fact that he unleashed them off successive balls in the final over of the day. Panesar was left with 1 for 91 by the close, Graeme Swann’s three cheap wickets still identifying him as very much the senior partner.

Their almost-forgotten double act had dominated the morning. They were together again in a Test for the first time in two-and-a-half years and to mark the occasion both had a wicket to their name by lunch, Swann bowling Taufeeq Umar in his fourth over, Panesar dismissing Mohammad Hafeez in the same fashion in his seventh.

Abu Dhabi is the driest Test ground in the world, with less than 100mm of rain a year. What little moisture there was initially came from England’s spinners salivating. Both found appreciable, if slow, turn while the ball retained its hardness; in Abu Dhabi everybody wants to bowl with the new ball. Panesar looked slightly tense, pulling the occasional ball down short, but both he and Swann beat the outside edge enough to rally England’s spirits.

The England management had stroked the pitch at length before play; stroked it, stared at it and finally accepted the inevitable. Fielding only two quick bowlers goes against the grain for England and they agonised until the final minutes but Abu Dhabi demanded it and Panesar made his first Test appearance since he stoutly blocked out for the draw against Australia at Cardiff in July 2009.

Panesar came on as early as the 10th over; Swann joined him three overs later. Both Pakistan openers fell to balls that slid on without turning. Taufeeq was guilty of misjudgement as he allowed a ball from Swann to strike his off-stump. Hafeez was undone by a quicker arm-ball from Panesar. He had been dropped the previous ball, Panesar failing to clutch a firm return catch down by his bootlaces, bringing a momentary appearance of his sad-clown expression.

The pitch flattened as the day progressed. That will tempt England to call for Jade Dernbach as replacement for Chris Tremlett, who is flying home with a recurrence of back trouble. The belief that Dernbach’s greater variety could be an attractive proposition.

The desert was a comparatively cool 18 degrees and there was cloud cover about. England fans had been instructed to show decorum and keep their shirts on. They needed little encouragement. One or two even huddled in blankets. Only Newcastle United football fans would have disrobed in such weather.

Taufeeq had one uncomfortable moment when he deflected a ball from Anderson into his grille, seeking to turn the ball into the legside, but the pitch was so slow it rested against his face like a disorientated butterfly. It was not long before Stuart Broad and Anderson began to mentally reduce their likely number of overs in the day. Two wickets for Broad in an excellent afternoon spell kept them busier than they might have imagined.

Broad flogged life from the pitch in an excellent nine-over spell, seaming deliveries back to strike the off stumps of Younis Khan and Azhar Ali. There was slackness about the intended on-drive that caused Younis’ downfall. Azhar played straighter but with the same result.

Misbah had reason to ruminate, sensing that Pakistan’s discipline during their 10-wicket victory in the first Test in Dubai was no longer quite as evident. He was intent at restoring order, ticking off his younger partner Asad Shafiq for an occasional flight of fancy.

Even in Misbah’s defensive posture there was room for him to hoist successive deliveries from Panesar over long-on for six. Shafiq also struck Panesar over the rope at long-off but that came with quicksilver feet. Misbah is not the type to take to the dance floor, preferring to watch and wait, but he showed no indications of wanting to leave early.

Shafiq’s ambition finally got the better of him when he fell lbw to Swann, attempting a slog-sweep, a decision that Pakistan failed to overturn by DRS. An over before the new ball was due, it was a headstrong shot.

Anderson viewed the advent of the second new ball so seriously that he refused to accept the ball plucked from the box by Ahsan Raza, the third umpire, from Pakistan. “Not the one I chose,” was the gist of Anderson’s comments – he chooses cricket balls as seriously as some people choose modern art – and there was a long delay and an early drinks break before he got what he wanted.

The new ball did not bring a wicket for Anderson – Misbah narrowly survived an appeal for lbw after England unsuccessfully resorted to DRS and Andrew Strauss dropped Adnan Akmal, chest high, at slip – but Akmal fell lbw to Broad and Swann nipped in with a third wicket, bowling Abdur Rehman for nought with one that turned, to round off England’s day.

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