A magnificent stand of 125 between the recalled Jos Buttler and debutant Dom Bess have given England a faint hope of winning the first Test match of the summer. The partnership and particularly the contribution of Buttler could be critical to England not just in this contest but also the rest of the summer.
Aiming to put things right
Bess joined Buttler at the crease with the hosts languishing on 110-6, 69 runs behind and in danger of losing the Test with two days to spare.
After a torrid winter in the Ashes where they were defeated by Australia and the following series against New Zealand, England had to ensure they got their summer off to a positive start against a Pakistan side who don't harbour a great record on British soil and are in a period of transition.
However, it was a familiar problem dragging England into difficulties in the first half of this Test. Over the past few years, they have tried to mould into an attacking unit to reflect the changing mentality of the sport across the globe. With more limited overs cricket than ever, there has never been as much emphasis on offensive shots.
Yet the truth of the matter is that the majority of the England squad are not in the same league as some of their Southern Hemisphere counterparts when it comes to dominating the fielding side, as reflected by the lack of English talent selected taking places in the Indian Premier League this season.
Poor start puts the hosts under pressure
In a country where the ball swings more than it does in any other Test playing nation, England showed a lack of discipline and patience during the opening innings. Swiping at shots that were not there to be hit, they were shown how to play the conditions by Pakistan who opened a 179-run advantage.
Test cricket is very much about momentum and Pakistan had that in abundance when England returned to the crease. The hosts played slightly better with the bat but excellent bowling from the visitors restricted England to 110-6. Only captain Joe Root made a contribution of note with 68, the one player to make a score above 12.
It left Buttler the only batsman of note to not only try and stabilise England and take their score ahead of Pakistan but to also try and start the foundations for a defendable score. The aggressive batsman came into the contest with contrasting form in different disciplines of the sport. He had scored five successive half-centuries during an impressive spell in the IPL but had scored just one similar score in three years of Test matches.
Plenty to learn
Under severe pressure, particularly after getting himself out cheaply in the first innings, Butter showed there was more to his game than free-flowing shots. He played patiently, waiting for optimum opportunities to release his wrists, showing the rest of his side as they should be playing. Whilst batting calmly and sensibly, he helped settle the nerves of 20-year old Bess at the other end.
Eventually, the momentum began to shift. Pakistan ended up just bowling the ball into particular areas, hoping for something to happen. That provided the opportunity for Buttler and Bess to take control and assert their authority over the tourists. They started to play their shots and both passed 50 before the end of play, taking England 56 runs ahead.
Yet the job is only partially done. Buttler and Bess could have wilted under the pressure, England would have lost heavily and the chance of winning the first series of the summer destroyed. They now need to ensure they refocus and continue to build, helping England to at least another 150 and a respectable total to defend.
Pakistan are still the favourites but England players and staff must also take note of how Buttler played his innings here. Rather than throwing away wickets because you are expected to play aggressively, England must learn to soak up the pressure and be patient in attempts to shift the momentum. One or two players performing as Buttler and Bess did in this innings will not win Test matches. All of the England squad must learn to play in the same manner.