Ben Jones looks at how Pakistan’s willingness to defend and play with caution benefited them on Day One in Manchester.
Pakistan spent a long time waiting for Test cricket to return home; last December, they got their wish.
Pakistan have waited a long time for this series, for different reasons, but they didn’t mind waiting a little longer.
Pakistan cricket has had to do a lot of waiting of late. Patience isn’t a sexy virtue, but it’s one they have have had to acquire. Today, it served them rather well.
Shan Masood batted very defensively. In the first 100 balls he faced, he attacked only six; the last Pakistan batsman to have reached 100 balls in a Test innings with a lower attacking shot percentage was Misbah, in November 2014 against New Zealand. Masood was channelling the slow-heartbeat method of his coach.
Our models suggest that of the balls Masood faced, in those first 100 deliveries at the crease, 16 would have been attacked had they been bowled to the average batsman. At the start of a Test, you’re willing to turn a few down, eye on the long game. At the start of a series, even more so.
After 25 overs, Pakistan had defended 47% of the balls bowled to them. Since such data was recorded, no side has started a Test in England more defensively; it was the sixth lowest defensive shot percentage at that stage of any innings in England. Masood’s method was dictating play, even as Abid and Azhar Ali fell away.
Babar Azam’s summer has been hotly anticipated. In the last two years, each of the world’s best batsmen have come to England, in various guises, and dominated. Virat Kohli cast aside his demons with a stellar 2018; Kane Williamson almost dragged New Zealand to a World Cup, Steve Smith almost dragged Australia to a series win in England. Babar wants to be up there with the big boys, so seizing this opportunity is paramount.
He batted like it mattered. Babar took 15 balls to get off the mark today; only once in his Test career has he taken longer to get off the mark, a knock against Bangladesh in Rawalpindi earlier this year. On that occasion, he made 143 (193). When he takes his time, it’s generally worth waiting for.
England bowled well in the first session. According to our Expected Wickets model, the balls they bowled should have taken 3.7 wickets. For all their willingness to soak up pressure and defend, Pakistan’s batsmen were still missing or edging against 27% of the balls bowled to them, something England have only twice bettered in their last 20 Tests. It was a level of risk that was essentially unsustainable. Something had to give, really.
As it was, what ‘gave’ was the bowling. After lunch, England were poor. Really poor.
Joe Root’s quicks dropped their good line and length percentage from 47% to 38%. Whenever England drifted from a good length, Babar and Masood were there to take advantage. Good length deliveries were still defended, afforded a level of respect befitting their quality, but others were not treated so politely. Those good length balls had an economy of 1.2rpo; all the others had an economy of 6rpo.
England found 60% of the seam movement they had in the Morning Session, and the threat was diminished. That 27% false shot percentage from before, fell to 12%. Masood and Babar had tightened their grip on the day, and with it the Test.
The evening session rather took the fizzle out of the day, as England were forced into using their spinners rather than the desired bouncer barrage from Jofra Archer. By the time the players walked off for good, WinViz had the game at evens. Pakistan had fought from a tricky position to being right in the game. They hadn’t done it through countering, or a new ball assault on the English top order, but through a stoic and patient batting effort.
Not for the first time, today Pakistan saw that good things come to those who wait.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.