England ended a gritty opening day of the second Test at the Zayed Cricket stadium marginally on top, but the degree of their superiority over Pakistan was dependent entirely on how they themselves face up to a wicket which is given to spin. They took another three wickets in the day’s last session, though could not remove Misbah-ul-Haq, whose unbeaten 82 was keeping Pakistan in the game at 256 for 7.
England could’ve been better placed had they not dropped two more chances - to bring to four the total they dropped through the day - but their bowling, as in Dubai, continued in the manner of a well-oiled, well-grilled unit.
Pakistan had begun after tea on top, Asad Shafiq and Misbah continuing a fine stand in the same way they reached tea. Shafiq in particular looked to have gotten over his early nerves, cutting Monty Panesar twice in one over for four and bringing up a fourth Test fifty two overs later. But he overreached in trying to be too aggressive. The hoick-sweep that led to his dismissal off Graeme Swann was a potentially critical dismissal, ending a 100-run stand.
Heartened, and with a new ball in hand, Stuart Broad and James Anderson tore in to what could potentially be a weak lower order and when Broad ended a skittish innings from Adnan Akmal, an opening presented itself.
But Misbah, as he has done so often, held firm himself and the tail with him. Having waited 139 balls to hit his first four, he reeled off another four boundaries in the space of 22 balls thereafter, driving through mid-off and extra cover elegantly and bringing up yet another Test fifty in the process. And though Swann took another, Misbah ended the day by lofting Monty Panesar for two successive sixes - massive again - in the day’s very last over.
England worked their way into a position of control through the afternoon of the second Test at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi, but outright dominance was quelled by a steadying fifth-wicket stand between Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq. Stuart Broad’s post-lunch spell was the early highlight, two key wickets leaving Pakistan in trouble at 103 for four but Misbah and Shafiq stood firm to take Pakistan to 177 for 4.
The hosts had begun well, Younis Khan helping them break free from the shackles of spin in the morning with some urgency immediately after the break. He began to run harder with Azhar Ali and picked off a couple of sweeps to unsettle Monty Panesar but as they began to look solid, Broad intervened.
Bowling at robust pace, Broad’s lengths were outstanding. He broke through Younis’s defence in the sixth over after lunch and a few overs later, produced a better delivery, nipping in a touch to go through Azhar’s unnecessary drive. That produced a quirky statistic as it meant for the first time ever, Pakistan’s entire top four had been dismissed bowled.
England then cranked up the pressure on Misbah and Asad Shafiq, already under pressure over his place in the side from Umar Akmal. For a time, a long scoreless period, it looked as if they might crack, especially Shafiq. Panesar wheeled away at one end, Broad persisted at the other and Shafiq in particular went nowhere.
But Misbah prised open the stranglehold abruptly, as is his way, by lofting Panesar for two successive - and massive - sixes over long-on. After mid-afternoon drinks the pair then worked their way assiduously away from danger. Shafiq soon felt comfortable enough to drive Jonathon Trott down the ground - the first four of the partnership - and loft Panesar for a straight six. Thereafter he began using his feet better, picking up singles regularly down the ground and stepping back to cut well and productively.
Every now and again, there was enough to suggest that their union wasn’t altogether stable. Shafiq heaved and inside-edged Graeme Swann and James Anderson missed a Misbah edge at slip off Panesar as tea drew closer. But by the break, the pair had put on 74 and held Pakistan together, just about.
A cagey opening session left England on top, with Pakistan ending it at 73 for two.
Until the last half hour or so, much of the incident occurred at the toss. Pakistan won that and Misbah chose to bat. It is not a Misbah strategy to bat first usually: of the eight tosses he’s on in his time as Test captain, this was only the second occasion he has batted first.
England were forced into dropping Chris Tremlett after he picked up a recurrence of a back injury - that will now keep him out of the tour incidentally - but instead of going with pace, they chose to pick Panesar for his first Test since July 2009. It meant that England were going in with two spinners in a four-man attack for the first time since December 2003.
For much of the morning, Pakistan’s strategic switch seemed to be paying dividends. Mohammad Hafeez and Taufeeq Umar were mostly untroubled by James Anderson and Broad; it wasn’t sunny or particularly overcast, but quite cold, and the ball didn’t do much.
Both Panesar and Graeme Swann were on within the first hour - and that doesn’t happen too often - and began turning the hard ball appreciably, perhaps a sign of things to come on the surface. At first, they didn’t get their lengths entirely right. Panesar often pitched marginally short, but enough for Hafeez to dab him away between point and third man regularly.
The pair brought up an unfussy fifty stand soon after drinks, Hafeez late cutting a boundary through third man. But in the next over, England’s strategic re-jig began to reap its first benefits. Umar was beaten by Swann and then chose to leave the next ball, straighter, which knocked back his off-stump.
Now the noose tightened, particularly as the new man, Azhar Ali, is not comfortable against spin early. Swann tightened one end, Panesar found his rhythm at the other and eventually Hafeez too fell. Panesar dropped him off his own bowling, before deceiving him quite beautifully with the arm ball next up.
Younis Khan and Azhar saw out the rest of the session, though not entirely without alarm. Spin has already taken hold, however.
Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq, Adnan Akmal, Abdur Rehman, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan
England: Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Jonathon Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Monty Panesar