In what was the most un-English day of the summer, Pakistan and England managed to play out a full 90 overs uninterrupted but, remarkably, that was not the story of the day. Nor was bad light. Day 1 belonged to young stalwart Zak Crawley, who struck a remarkable 171* on a day filled with sunshine.
Crawley’s first hour counter-attack leaves Pakistan at sixes and sevens
Zak Crawley’s 53 in the second Test might have been put down by experts as an inconsequential knock, but today the youngster proved why the selectors are willing to invest on him until he becomes a finished article. Walking in at 12/1 against a rampant Shaheen, the Kent lad casually flicked the first ball he faced - a booming inswinger aimed at his pads - to the boundary and, from thereon, never looked back. Inside the first hour and 15 minutes, he’d raced off to 45 with six boundaries to his name and by the time the umpires called for drinks, he’d successfully managed to mess with the heads of the visitors, who were quite chirpy - and confident - post the dismissal of Burns.
It would not be an overstatement to call Crawley’s knock today the best knock of his entire cricketing career. He displayed qualities of a No.3 batsman - counter-attacking, proactiveness and rightful assessment of opposition and situation - that would make any captain drool. And through his fluency, he carved the visitors apart with surgical precision - throughout the course of the day.
More than the weight of runs, though, what stood out about Crawley’s knock was how he managed to put the Pakistan bowlers off. For Shaheen, he preempted the inswinger and adjusted his feet accordingly to dispatch the deliveries through the vacant square-leg region then when it came to Abbas, he unsettled the veteran by skipping out of track. And he did so with success (unlike Ben Stokes). That Azhar Ali had to turn to Plan B and bring Yasir Shah on in just the 11th over was a testament to Crawley’s genius.
Has Yasir Shah exposed an inherent weakness in Ollie Pope’s game?
It is to Ollie Pope’s credit that, just 12 Tests in, he is already considered one of England’s most reliable batters. His 135* at Port Elizabeth and his 91 and 62 at Old Trafford (against Windies and Pakistan, respectively) were all match-defining knocks that came under tremendous pressure. But if there’s one area where he’s really been not tested enough, it is his proficiency versus spin. And there’s now the fear that Yasir Shah might have just exposed a glaring flaw in the youngster’s game which might force other teams to take note.
For the second innings running, Pope was undone by a ripping wrong-un by Yasir Shah - this time cleaned up, as compared to the LBW he encountered in the second Test. Of course to label Pope getting out twice in two innings to Shah a ‘weakness’ would be pretty naive, but him coming off clueless against quicker, shorter wrong-uns in consecutive digs is a cause for concern, indeed. Especially when you consider the fact that someone like a Crawley, who himself was not ‘great’ versus Roston Chase versus the Windies, and Buttler, who has had his fair share of problems versus spin in Test cricket, both read and played Shah with relative ease today.
Pope’s trouble against the shorter wrong’un is a bit bizarre because throughout the summer, he has, in fact, shown that he can dance down the wicket and use his feet to effect to negate flight. But somehow, he’s had trouble with the shorter one turning into him - Roston Chase, too, not long ago at Manchester, trapped him in front of the wicket after he was guilty of hanging back. The second innings should certainly give a fairer indication of things, but you imagine both India and Sri Lanka would be looking at this footage with keen interest.
Has Naseem Shah really been effective all series?
Much has been spoken about Jofra Archer and how England have failed to utilize him to his potential, the same can be said about Naseem Shah, who, to be frankly honest, has not had the impact in this series that he was expected to have. Four innings in, he’s claimed just three wickets at an average of 52.66 - the worst amongst all pacers in this series - and the odd rip-snorter aside, he has rendered ineffective for the most part.
That brings to the fore the question - do Pakistan know how to effectively utilize Naseem and, in the case of them not knowing, would they not have been better off picking someone like a Sohail Khan, who is tailor made for these conditions? Unlike Archer, with Naseem, it has never been about pace or commitment - he runs in every ball like his career depends on it and he, more often than not, generates exquisite pace.
But barring the one that squares the batsman - like the Root delivery today - or the one that takes off unannounced - like the Pope delivery at Old Trafford - the lack of lateral movement - both in the air and off the wicket - in his bowling has been glaring. How much of it is due to the fact that he comes in as first change, remains to be seen - he claimed a five-wicket haul in one of the warm-up matches taking the new ball but the presence of both Abbas and Shaheen has meant that he’s had to settle as the third seamer. But the sheer magic Woakes - who is also a first/second change bowler - has produced kind of quashes that argument.
Naseem is an exceptional talent, no doubt, but fair to say he is far from a finished product - it has kind of shown in this series.