<
>

Aslam and Azhar put Pakistan in control

Pakistan 257 for 3 (Younis 21*) trail England 297 by 40 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Pakistan's Old Trafford drubbing is already feeling a long time ago. On the second day at Edgbaston, Azhar Ali's tenth Test century, and a second-wicket stand of 181 with Sami Aslam, carried Pakistan to a strong position as they closed on 257 for 3, just 40 short of England's total, only for the gloss to be taken off slightly when Azhar fell to the final ball.

Yet it was still an outstanding innings. Azhar had made just 39 runs in four innings during the first two Tests but here showed the determination and fight that Pakistan needed from one of their senior batsmen. He reached his century when he gloved his tenth boundary down to fine leg during the final session, celebrating extravagantly and following the lead of his captain at Lord's with a set of press-ups.

England paid the price for dropping him twice. On 38 Joe Root moved late for an edge at second slip and the on 69 Moeen Ali could not hold a stinging return catch. Those moments were part of a day of increasing frustration for England. James Anderson was warned twice in an over by Bruce Oxenford for running on the danger area on a day when his grumpy side was on full display. It would not be surprising if some of his actions gained the interest of the match referee, although after play he said he had apologised to both umpires, Oxenford and Joel Wilson.

In many ways, however, the story of the day belonged to 20-year-old Aslam who made a wonderfully composed 82 having been recalled to replace Shan Masood. He was closing in on becoming the youngest opener to make a century in England when, having run superbly between the wickets with Azhar during their 62-over stand, he was sold short by his team-mate when he chanced a single to point. James Vince provided the spark England desperately needed when he swooped and hit direct with a fierce shy.

But the breakthrough did not bring immediate further success. Younis Khan was unconvincing, repeatedly being beaten as he continued to move around the crease, but survived to reach the close with 21 off 68 balls and Azhar was one delivery away from walking off unbeaten with him only to jab at Chris Woakes' final ball and send the edge to Alastair Cook at first slip.

England's day had started promisingly when Mohammad Hafeez, playing in his 50th Test, cut the fourth ball of the innings low to point: it ended up being their high point as the bowlers did not take a wicket for the next 89.1 overs with the Pakistan line-up, led by their second-wicket pair, putting England's 297 into context.

After the first day's play, Gary Ballance, the top-scorer, suggested they were content with the total in what he said were tough conditions. Twenty-four hours later, though, not only did Misbah-ul-Haq's decision to bowl look even more well-informed, but Aslam and Azhar had given an exemplary display of what a bit of graft - not a word often associated with this England batting order, except for Cook - can bring. England will consider that they did not make the most of the first new ball, bowling a fraction short and wide, and will have to follow-up Woakes' late strike with further inroads on the third morning to even the contest.

Both Aslam and Azhar were content to bide their time: 72 runs came in the first session and 82 in the second. They left well, backing themselves to soak up the pressure when maidens were strung together, pushing England's bowlers deep into the day. Even with a five-man attack, if wickets are hard to come by the strain will be felt.

To add to the quality of Aslam's innings was the fact that he had not had a first-class knock since last December. His smart leaving meant the bowlers were drawn into being straighter, when he would either knock them into the off-side gaps or work them off his pads, and neither was he unsettled when he ducked into a short ball from Woakes that struck the back of his helmet. He rarely looked hurried into his shots and only attacked when it was a low-risk option.

He also showed that trait of all Pakistan batsmen: the desire to target Moeen. Either side of tea he pressed his accelerator against the spinner, reaching his fifty with a paddle sweep then providing a repeat before twice biffing Moeen over mid-on, the second of them clearing the boundary. His strike rate against Moeen was 108, the best against the seamers was 50 against Steven Finn

His departure was unfortunate, but what Pakistan could ill-afford was for it to knock Azhar off his stride and give England an opening to claw their way back. He did not linger long in the 90s, reaching his second century against England, and then kicked on ahead of the second new-ball being due. He then began setting himself again, adding just another 10 runs off 40 balls, before his concentration let him down at the last moment. However, he has given his team a platform from which to dominate. The full context of this innings will emerge over the next few days, but it has the potential to achieve something very significant for Pakistan.