Pakistan openers fight back in first Test in response to England’s mammoth 657

Friday at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium stirred the senses for all but those foolish enough to be bowlers in these parts. After lunchtime prayers the ground filled up and, in the face of a mountain of runs plundered by England, Pakistan offered a reply that had the locals in raptures and underlined the importance of international cricket’s return.

The challenge of claiming 20 wickets on this pitch was also crystal clear by the close. Pakistan reached 181 for no loss from 51 overs after England’s 657 all out from 101, openers Imam-ul-Haq and Abdullah Shafique striding off unbeaten on 90 and 89 respectively. It wasn’t the wild ride that saw their guests become the first Test side to go at more than six an over in a first innings, but still a relative cruise.

Ben Stokes suspected he may have to get creative in the field before his first away Test as captain and once Harry Brook sprinkled some more stardust in the morning, turning his overnight maiden century into 153 from 116 balls, confirmation came like the crash after a sugar rush. Unorthodox fields, a short-ball plan and attempts to harness reverse swing – Stokes tried plenty but chances were at a premium and the three chiselled out were not converted.

The first two came the way of Ollie Pope, a not inexperienced part-time wicketkeeper but not the specialist reserve needed in this part of the world either. Ben Foakes succumbing to a virus meant losing one of their trump cards in the subcontinent and when Jack Leach tickled Iman’s outside edge on 11, the ball not sticking in Pope’s gloves highlighted the absence.

Coming in the ninth over of the reply, Pope had to wait until the 34th for the next opportunity and his effort could not be faulted. Jimmy Anderson, who had sent down 37,505 balls in Test cricket before his first on Pakistani soil, was into his second spell and managed to cramp Shafique for room on 54 with a short ball that was nudged down leg.

Pope flew low to his left and appeared to have pulled off a beauty, such that umpire Joel Wilson gave a soft signal of out upon asking the third umpire to check. The ball appeared to touch the grass before nestling in glove on one of the replays and Shafique was free to resume as Anderson chuntered away in the England huddle.

In the next over Leach was denied once more, a flick by Shafique this time sent into the midriff of substitute Keaton Jennings at short leg. The kind that either sticks or doesn’t, it was again a case of exasperated sighs for England’s fielders, Imam and Shafique getting their heads down and dominating until the light eventually gave way.

While Liam Livingstone did not bowl after jarring his knee in the field, there was a first look at Will Jacks. An off-spinner with sound ingredients, be it dip from the revs imparted or the height from which he delivers, the 24-year-old is as raw as a first-class average of 47 suggests. His length was inconsistent and against two batters brought up on such surfaces, he was easily negotiated with good footwork.

But then most bowlers have been so far – England’s last six wickets fell to ambitious shots – and, up in the press box, Ramiz Raja was unimpressed. The Pakistan Cricket Board’s debonair chair was holding court during lunch and though wowed by England’s mindset and execution with the bat, this surface was not to his liking. After a soporific draw here against Australia earlier this year, little has changed.

Despite the lack of a contest between bat and ball, the crowd’s unbridled passion kept things interesting and there was much delight at the Barmy Army trumpeter offering a rendition of ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’. That said, nothing could match the noise when Imam and Shafique either pierced the infield or went over the top en route to the fifth successive century stand by a pair of Test openers on this ground.

For the 200 or so travelling supporters it was the action during the extended morning session – the day recalibrated for prayers – that proved most memorable. England turned their overnight 506 for four into their all-time highest total in Asia, with the 652 for seven declared that Graeme Fowler and Mike Gatting helped amass in Chennai 37 years ago surpassed by five runs – albeit in 74 fewer overs.

England pressed the accelerator immediately first thing, Stokes dancing down the pitch to Naseem Shah and propelling the second ball of the day for a handsome six. But four balls later Pakistan’s most experienced bowler by way of Test caps (14) was erupting in celebration, Stokes backing away to force a single off his stumps only to be bowled.

Brook soon sparkled, however. The Yorkshireman was not content with equalling Ian Botham’s England record of 24 runs off an over the day before, swatting six, four, four, four, six, and finally a three off the beleaguered Zahid Mahmood – 27 runs in total – to claim the title outright. His 150 came from just 115 balls, England’s fastest in Test cricket, before he eventually holed out.

A right-hander who sets up in orthodox fashion, Brook boasts all the 360-degree tricks of the modern player. The first of those sixes in his manhandling of Zahid was a switch-hit that sailed over cover, the second lofted straight over the leg-spinner’s head.

It was golden batting but, like punchy contributions from Jacks, 30, and Ollie Robinson, 37, also signposted the challenge ahead.