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Cricket news - So close, yet so far for Pakistan

"They came out with great intent. They knew that it would not be possible batting in a normal way. They just took the game on." - Azhar Ali.

"They came out with great intent. They knew that it would not be possible batting in a normal way. They just took the game on." - Azhar Ali.

Leg spin was spoken about as the key factor leading up to the endgame of the England-Pakistan contest in Manchester. The visiting camp was confident of Yasir Shah's abilities in leading the side towards a series lead. The home team, while wary of the 34-year-old legspinner, had stressed on the need to be positive in the chase. There was no doubt that Pakistan's progress in the game was largely determined by the success of Yasir, who finished with eight wickets from the game. But there were also other factors involved - such as discipline and persistence - which Pakistan were good at for the first two sessions, but the inability to sustain it when put under pressure by Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes meant that it was a case of so close, yet so far.

It took until the 12th over for Pakistan to pick up their first wicket when Mohammad Abbas accounted for Rory Burns, but a steady partnership between Joe Root and Dom Sibley ensued thereafter. Pakistan, though, did not panic. They kept it tight and conceded only 55 runs in the 22 overs that were bowled before Lunch. Yasir Shah had to wait until his 12th over to pick up his first wicket, and leading up to it, he was rotating between over the wicket and around in a bid to unsettle the batsmen. He finally reaped the reward when he tempted Sibley into a drive, with the batsman having been padding the ball for a while, to end a 64-run stand that lasted for close to 25 overs.

Naseem Shah, from the other end, found the outside edge on multiple occasions but the ball always landed short of the slip fielders. Unflustered, he stuck to good lines outside off and bowled with a lot of pace. The 17-year-old eventually got rid of Root. Yasir and Shaheen Afridi produced a couple of unplayable deliveries to send back Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope, as England lost four wickets for only 31 runs to be five down at Tea, having managed 112 runs off 31 overs in the session.

But the challenge was far from over for Pakistan. Woakes, who had spoken about needing to be proactive, did just that in the company of Jos Buttler as the sixth-wicket pair put on a quick-fire stand to get the target into double digits, with both batsmen registering vital half-centuries to brighten England's prospects. The pressure mounted on Pakistan, with not a single maiden being bowled since the partnership started, and skipper Azhar Ali was constantly chatting with his bowlers to find a way out of this conundrum.

The feature of Pakistan's bowling in the first two sessions, which was to create pressure by drying up the runs, was lacking in the third - a soft ball and an easing pitch making it even harder for the visitors. Yasir and Shadab tried their best to get Pakistan back in the game, even creating a few chances, but nothing materialised. Pakistan finally managed to send back Buttler, followed by Stuart Broad, with Yasir picking up the wickets. But they came a little too late, leaving Pakistan ruing over what could have been as they suffered their seventh straight loss in overseas Tests.

"They just took the game on straightaway after the fifth wicket had gone, started playing shots from the first ball," said Azhar at the post-match press conference on Saturday (August 8), giving credit to the way Buttler and Woakes approached the situation. "It was one of the best partnerships in recent past in Test matches. We were right in control of the game. I think we were just one punch away from finishing the game from there. But they just came and dominated us in that period. Somewhere around it, we were kind of unlucky but for the most part of the partnership they were brilliant."

Root's 42 off 84 at a strike rate of 50 was the highest-scoring rate among the top five, who collectively scored 104 runs which came off 264 deliveries (i.e; 44 overs). Buttler and Woakes, on the other hand, scored 159 off 221 deliveries. England's top five, between them, had struck 15 fours. Buttler and Woakes, between them, scored 15 fours and a six. Buttler was the one who set the tone for England's fightback, scoring two fours off Yasir in the first over he faced off the legspinner. Driving, sweeping and reverse-sweeping the veteran legspinner, he collected five boundaries off the 34-year-old while he also scored a four and a six off Shadab - majority of the wicketkeeper-batsman's boundaries coming off the spinners.

"I've played Test cricket for a long time now and I know that Test cricket is hard, it's never over until it's over, and I think it was shown again today. But the good thing is everyone stuck to the task. Unfortunately, we were hard done by a brilliant partnership. In hindsight, we can think that a lot of things can be done. But I think when they came and played their shots...especially Jos Buttler who attacked the spinners, played sweep shots, reverse sweeps, it worked for him and unfortunately nothing worked at that moment for us.

"They came out with great intent. They knew that it would not be possible batting in a normal way. They just took the game on and maybe when the ball got a little more softer, it stopped doing anything - especially for the fast bowlers. Buttler, when he plays against spin, he can do a masterclass. He can play 360 degrees against the spinners. It's hard to set an attacking field against him. He really put pressure on us and it worked for him. We were outplayed by him in that period," conceded Azhar.

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