Having lost the toss, England’s bowlers once again rose to the occasion and wore Pakistan’s batting down on an excellent pitch in Abu Dhabi.
In the lead up to India’s visit to English shores last summer, a member of our team wrote a piece demanding Stuart Broad be sent back to County Cricket with his jumped-up tail between his legs. That person shall remain nameless, suffice to say he has spent much of the interim beating himself over the head with empty gin bottles. On a pitch which looked just ripe for run-plundering, Broad produced one of his very best performances in an England shirt and had some very good batsmen in all sorts of trouble throughout the opening day. His spell after lunch, in which he castled both Younus Khan and Azhar Ali just as they were beginning to turn the game in Pakistan’s favour, was one of which any of the greats would’ve been proud. It is a very far cry from the rather ill-advised ‘Enforcer’ role he played to absolutely no acclaim prior to last August.
After Broad’s burst in the afternoon session, the ever-reliable Misbah, along with Asad Shafiq, had rebuilt the hosts’ innings and had England on the back foot. With the new ball looming, who would ride to England’s rescue? Their knight in shining armour turned out to be the Decision Review System, as Shafiq’s LBW was upheld despite the ball quite evidently hitting him outside the line of off stump. Had DRS not been consistently awful on this tour one might be concerned it had developed a mind of its own and given the young batsman out for the shot – an ugly hoick across the line akin to vomiting all over the MCC Coaching Manual and chucking it into a sewer. The problem with the system at the moment is the sheer inconsistency of it; the ICC’s refusal to make the technology mandatory (and thus have to actually pay for it themselves) means each board is responsible for negotiating their own deals. It’s no surprise that many of them use cheap imitations of the Hawkeye used back home. Somehow we have got into a situation where the technology is being used but wrong decisions are still being made. We are very pro-DRS if it is used properly, this is not using it properly.
Firstly, England must clean up the tail much more quickly than they did in Dubai, where the lower order runs added by Adnan Akmal and Saeed Ajmal took the game away from them on the third morning. The wicket of Misbah – who has been excellent once again – is obviously the key one, but if they can keep Pakistan below 300 they will be very pleased with themselves. After that the spotlight will turn to how they plan to deal with Ajmal on a turning surface. A top seven who are all generally good players of spin will surely not play him as incompetently as they did last week twice in a row. The wicket is not as flat as everyone anticipated, but it is still an excellent one to bat on, and from this position they must get a first innings lead. If all goes well they should be closing in on parity by this time tomorrow. Famous last words.