Sohail Khan made a significant impact on his return to Test cricket after a gap of nearly five years as England were forced to dig deep for something close to parity on the opening day at Edgbaston. Sohail, recalled in place of Wahab Riaz, took 5 for 96 while half-centuries for Gary Ballance and Moeen Ali provided much-needed stability for England who ended with 297.
Sohail's presence in the attack meant it was the first time Pakistan had fielded a right-arm seamer in the series. He had two previous Tests, the last of them against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo in 2011, with his sole Test wicket prior to this match being Tatenda Taibu and an average that stood at 245. By tea, he had four of England's top order including the in-form Joe Root, having twice claimed a brace in hardworking eight-over spells during the first two sessions, and clinched a deserved five-for when he pinned James Anderson lbw with what became the last ball of the day – and he still had the energy for nine celebratory push-ups.
For a day, at least, Pakistan's response to their Old Trafford drubbing was encouraging as they did enough to just about vindicate Misbah-ul-Haq's somewhat surprising decision to bowl first. Not surprising so much in terms of recent evidence at the ground – no side has won batting first since the Ashes Test of 2005 – but because it meant his trump card, Yasir Shah, would not have the chance to bowl in the fourth innings.
England's batting never took a stranglehold on the day as they had in Manchester, slipping to 73 for 3 in the morning session, 158 for 5 before tea and 244 for 7 in the evening before the second new ball cleaned up the innings. However, Ballance showed the value of substance over style with his first half-century since his return and Moeen, playing on the ground where his county career began, and back at No. 7 due to Ben Stokes' injury, produced his second important innings of the season after a century against Sri Lanka.
Rahat Ali chipped in with the wicket of Alastair Cook for 45 after the England captain had played fluently and Yasir, while not offering a major threat on a first-day pitch, removed Ballance with one that turned and took a thin edge down the leg side during a 25-over stint from the Birmingham End which offered the element of control missing at Old Trafford.
After Misbah's decision to insert England on an overcast morning and following heavy rain in the lead-up to the match, the early overs were not entirely promising as Cook and Hales skipped out of the blocks, but after the opening half an hour Pakistan's bowlers tightened their lines and the rewards came. Sohail found Hales' outside edge having beaten him the ball before, continuing Hales' lean series which now reads 73 runs in five innings.
If Pakistan were pleased by that success, they were positively ecstatic a short while later when Root, who made 325 runs over two innings at Old Trafford, edged to first slip as he tried to force Sohail off the back foot. He was safely held by Mohammad Hafeez – who is playing his 50th Test – which is not something that can always be said.
Cook looked in good order, except for when he almost inside-edged into his stumps against Rahat, timing the ball sweetly off front and back foot as he moved along at close to a run-a-ball. However, Rahat then got one to nip back and strike Cook in front of off stump; the captain's use of DRS was more in hope that expectation.
Given that Ballance and James Vince are playing to secure their places, they counter-punched impressively either side of lunch as Pakistan's bowlers offered up a liberal supply of loose deliveries between the threatening ones.
Vince appeared to be making a conscious effort to leave outside off, although still could not resist one flowing square drive and almost edged another in what has become familiar style this season. The wicket ball, which followed a spell of three maidens in four overs, was fairly innocuous and came somewhat against the run of play with Sohail appearing to have a few issues with his run up. A back-of-a-length delivery brought a half-hearted prod from Vince and although the batsman initially stood his ground – with Younis Khan also stating he was not sure over the catch – this was a rare occasion of TV pictures going in favour of the fielding side.
As ever, Jonny Bairstow bristled with intent as he began his innings – depositing Yasir down the ground with a meaty club – but his golden touch deserted him when his eyes lit up at a short, wide delivery and he top-edged to Sarfraz Ahmed.
Ballance, who has looked reasonably solid since his recall at the start of the series, but has not converted into a substantial score, played some punchy drives and, having gone to tea on 49 during a period where Pakistan dried up the scoring, brought up his fifty off 113 deliveries. As at Lord's, his dismissal came in part from getting too far across at Yasir when the ball gripped from outside off stump.
Moeen, averaging a touch under a 80 at No. 7 thanks to his unbeaten 155 against Sri Lanka at Chester-le-Street, was becalmed for the early stages of his innings. His first boundary, though, was an expansive cover drive which was followed by an even better back-foot stroke against Sohail. On 44, he saved himself with the DRS after being given caught at short leg sweeping at Yasir before reaching fifty with a flamboyant, one-legged pull through midwicket.
The new-ball prevented the lower order from doing much damage, however, as Stuart Broad flashed an edge to third slip the first delivery Mohammad Amir had it in his hands then Moeen nicked an expansive drive to give Sarfraz his fifth catch of the innings. This has the makings of an absorbing contest.
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