There was an almost apologetic look on Misbah-ul-Haq‘s face when he won his second toss of the series. As if to say, ‘sorry, Alastair, but you know what’s coming’. And there certainly was a case of déjà vu.
The close-of-play score – 282 for 4 – was remarkably similar to last week’s at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium when Pakistan finished on 286 for 4, and there was even a sense of having seen it all before in the way Misbah disdainfully raced to his hundred in the final over.
There is an expectation that this surface will deteriorate more rapidly than Abu Dhabi, which offered virtually nothing until the penultimate session of the match, so having first use was seen as a major coup, especially with Yasir Shah back in Pakistan’s ranks. Yet, despite Misbah’s hundred, England reached the close knowing they remain firmly in the contest after the bowling attack strained every sinew.
An opening stand of 51 was countered by two pieces of sharp work at short leg from Jonny Bairstow. Then Shan Masood’s elegant fifty was snuffed out straight after lunch – both he and Mohammad Hafeez fell to that notorious helping hand, the break in play – and Younis Khan was extracted before his partnership with Misbah could swell to vast proportions. The final hour swung the day, but not the match.
As on the first day in Abu Dhabi, there was a stark contrast between pace and spin: the four quicks compiled 57-16-138-3 and the two spinners 33-4-142-1. The value of having six frontline bowlers was again on display from Alastair Cook. He did not have to over-expose Adil Rashid or over-burden any of his quicks.
The heaviest workload of the day went to Moeen Ali with 20 overs. He was introduced in just the eighth over and was also the man to feel the force of Misbah in the last, while the tireless James Anderson was the hardest-worked of the quicks, with 16 overs stretched across four spells. However, it was the effort of Mark Wood that was most notable – with a worthy nod to Ben Stokes who was still recovering from the effects of a stomach bug – even though his wicket tally remains limited.
“It’s three or four overs as a bowler and then you are off and then the next guy has to back that up,” Wood said. “It’s no good, say, Jimmy putting in a great three overs and I come on and let the pressure off. I think that’s why we all look out for each other and are quite a close unit. You sort of have that badge of honour in these conditions, you know you’ve put a hard shift in and done it for the team.
“I think the pitch is a little more skiddy than [Abu Dhabi], this comes onto the bat a little bit better. As a seam group I think we did our job, we set traps and tried different things. They attacked the spinners but I don’t think they bowled badly.”
In Wood’s case, how his body reacts to back-to-back Tests is always the focus of attention. Against New Zealand, at Headingley, he laboured after his debut the week before; against Australia at Lord’s he struggled after impressing in Cardiff – and those matches were not in 35-degree heat. In Abu Dhabi he sent down 29 overs in the match, comparable to the other quicks but not a huge workload.
Still, the strain needs to be carefully monitored; if he plays all three Tests in this series that will be above expectation. Wood does not hide his concerns, he has been happy to talk about them in the past, conceding surgery made be needed on his ankle eventually. Still, as a player deemed worthy of selection Wood can’t then expect special protection. Besides, it’s not in his nature to hold anything back.
Each spell was full of hostility. In his first burst he attempted to unsettle Masood, who had not played the short ball at all well during his brief pair of innings in Abu Dhabi; then in his second spell, Wood twice stuck Misbah on the shoulder and the back of the helmet as the Pakistan captain turned his head away from short deliveries.
What must go through the mind of a fast bowler, on these pitches, when the captain asks for a spell of bouncers? There was, however, a modicum of extra carry compared to last week and Wood threw his all into trying to make the most of it.
“I tried to make more aggressive use of the short ball,” Wood said. “With my height, in these conditions, it tends not to go over them very much, it’s always at them, so I can use that to my advantage. But they played it pretty well, I know I hit Misbah a couple of times but he’s still out there and has a hundred so I’ll have to try again tomorrow.”
After tea Wood produced an outstanding spell of 4-2-3-1; between him and Moeen the first 17 balls of the final session were dots, the 18th brought the wicket of Younis who was set solid on 56. A leg-side catch it may have been, but it is worth noting the build-up in the over – the third ball, a short delivery, made Younis flinch out of the line and the next he was beaten playing a flat-footed drive. Younis, a batsman enjoying the prime of his career late on, had been unsettled on a flat pitch.
Next over, Wood gave Asad Shafiq a testing time, zipping one past the outside edge and then creating a nick which landed short of gully. In the fourth over of his spell he pummelled Misbah’s gloves with a rising delivery and nipped another past the outside edge. On another day, Wood could easily have had more reward. But although both batsmen survived, he had left nothing in the shed, or should that be the stable. Wood’s own horse may be imaginary, but England’s most certainly has not bolted.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.