Babar shines on rain-hit first day

Babar Azam deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Virat Kohli and Steve Smith, according to former England captain Nasser Hussain, as the Pakistani maestro shone on a rainmarred opening day of their Test tour.

England’s bowlers came under fire for letting Babar and opener Shan Masood off the hook as the pair’s unbroken 96-run stand guided the visitors to 2-139 at stumps on the opening day.

Pakistan had stumbled to 2-43 after captain Azha Ali elected to bat first in the series opener at Old Trafford but the elegant Babar (69 not out off 100 balls) and the patient Masood (46 not out off 152) ensured their side kept the ascendancy with just 49 overs possible.

Aided by some poor English bowling, Babar struc 11 boundaries to prompt Hussain to declare the right-hander belongs alongside Test cricket’s ‘Fab Four’ of Smith, Kohli, Kane Williamson and Joe Root.

“If this was Kohli, everyone would be talking, but as it’s Babar Azam, no-one is talking,” he said on Sky Sports. “He averages 68 (in Tests) since 2018 and 55 in white-ball cricket.

“He’s young, he’s elegant & he’s got swagger. They talk about the Fab Four, but it’s the ‘Fab Five’, and Babar is in that.

“It’s a real shame and is in part a consequence of Pakistan playing away from home, playing in UAE in front of no-one, Pakistan being in the shadow o Indian cricket, not going over and playing IPL (Indian Premier League) and not playing against India, it’s all of that.”

Jofra Archer got England’s first breakthrough when he cut one back viciously to castle opener Abid Ali for 16.

An impressive first-up spell from Chris Woakes was rewarded with the prized scalp of No.3 Azhar for a six-ball duck, with the skipper adjudged lbw. But the hosts squandered their advantage after the first break according to coach Chris Silverwood.

“We bowled too many four balls and gave the momentum back to Pakistan,” said Silverwood. “We weren’t on the money. The standards we’ve set ourselves, we just weren’t there, if we’re brutally honest.

“The challenge, if it happens again, is how can we wrestle momentum back more quickly? I’d like to see a repeat of how we bowled against West Indies and make life hard for the batsmen.

“We know we’re up against some very good batsmen, and if we’re not at the top of our game, they will take it away from us. It’s a timely reminder.”
Making matters worse was wicketkeeper Jos Buttler missing two chances off Masood on 45, both off the spin of Dom Bess; the first a catch of an outside edge, the second a stumping opportunity.

An early tea was called after Babar brought up a 70-ball half-century and while play resumed with failing light nearly three hours later, he and Masood survived to the close.

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