James Anderson will start Monday with 598 Test wickets, bowling at a Pakistan line-up he has picked off with five for 56 in 273 all out.
In taking a 29th five-wicket haul, drawing level with Australian legend Glenn McGrath, he has another box ticked on the “greatness” charter. And, well, could it have come about any better, through some majestic swing and seam, and the kind of sour-faced, head-in-hands anger that only he can muster in moments of triumph?
Because, really, he should have achieved the 600 on Sunday evening. On 597, and four in the innings, he saw three catches shelled off his bowling in the space of 10 balls. Azhar Ali was dropped at second slip by Rory Burns, Mohammad Abbas at fourth by Zak Crawley and then Azhar again at mid-on from Broad, who threw at the striker’s stumps in anger and ended up running out Abbas.
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Thankfully, it was only the ninth wicket, allowing Anderson to finish his 23rd over with a delivery that drew Naseem Shah into a false shot to Dom Sibley, who learned from the mistakes of the men to his left and right and took a smart catch at second slip.
Maybe it would have preferred to snare Azhar, who had completed a 17th Test hundred, not just for the credibility but to allow him the opportunity to move into a new century on the day England took the draw out of the match having ruled out defeat with their mammoth first innings of 583 for eight declared.
Perhaps, though, this is the best-case scenario. There are no crowds here, a particular bum note when Stuart Broad picked up his 500th Test wicket to little live fanfare at Emirates Old Trafford against West Indies last month.
Now at least alarms can be set, plans made and focus turned towards 11am, Monday morning. He has a new ball against a team 310 about to embark on the ignominy of a follow-on innings. Whichever way possible, “witnessing” the first seam bowler and Englishman to pass 600 Test wickets is appointment-to-view history.
Negotiating a stifled day was in the back of England’s minds this morning, though was made simpler through Anderson’s three wickets on Saturday evening which saw Pakistan resume on 24 for three.
He would need just six deliveries to take the fourth: Asad Shafiq with a defensive shot in keeping with his cataclysmic fall from grace, edging catch to cordon for the third time this series, and second into the hands of Dom Sibley at second slip.
Shafiq came into this series averaging 40 against England, a threat to be concerned of, but has been an easily moveable, with just 46 runs from his four innings so far. Once a rock in the middle order, the 34-year old averages 35 since the start of 2019, with no centuries in that time.
As he walked off with Pakistan 30 for four, the rain walked on for first of two morning delays that eventually saw lunch taken early at 12:30pm. Though the weather did ensure a swift first innings demise was in the offing, credit should go to Azhar and Fawad Alam for making England work for the fifth. They were able to frustrate the seamers, cycling through them well enough see Joe Root turn to the off-spin of Dom Bess.
It had been 123 overs in the field for Bess without turning his arm over before he was finally called up on in the 28th over and, with the second delivery of his fifth, removed Fawad Alam (for 21). That it came via the edge of the bat via a bit of drift and bite off the surface and then off the outside edge was all the more satisfying.
Bess was unlucky not to snare the wicket of another left-hander, Shan Masood, during the first Test: a stumping and catching chance spurned by Jos Buttler as Masood went on to 156. This time, Buttler’s movements were perfectly oiled, arm’s cradling smoothly to his right, allowing the ball to melt into his gloves. The result of day two’s century, perhaps? Transferrable confidence is absolutely a thing in a world which punishes a lack of it.
At 75 for five, Pakistan were still in strife, but that fifth wicket had shown surviving and accumulating were no hard task, even if they were swimming against a strong tide of first-innings runs.
By the 58th over, the score had been more than doubled by Azhar and Mohammad Rizwan, the former making up for a poor series and the latter utilising the belief gained from his 72 in the rain-ruined second Test. The captain raced through the forties with three fours: the first taking him past 6,000 career runs, the second and third taking him to 52 off 137 deliveries for a 48th score of fifty or more.
Those three boundaries, all off the bowling off Jofra Archer, put a spring in Azhar’s steps, which he used to skip down to Broad to negate changes of length. He would also make use of an empty third man to get some easy runs with some simple deflections.
England were not quite ragged, but they certainly did not help themselves. Chris Woakes was, at times, too full. Jofra Archer, too short. Bess, despite the early breakthrough, unable to threaten the right-handers as much as he did the leftie. The century stand, from 166 deliveries, arrived four overs after tea.
Rizwan felt comfortable enough to dance down and hit Bess for six down the ground to bring up his half-century from 103 deliveries. Similarly, Azhar did not mind the tempter outside off stump which he leaned into to drive away his 205th ball faced for his third century as captain.
The “as captain” bit is important there. The pressure on Azhar has ramped up over the last few weeks, not undeservedly so. His captaincy in the first Test went some way to Pakistan losing that Test even if you take the brilliance of Buttler and Chris Woakes as read, and will ultimately lose this series.
Putting the blame squarely on him is a tad harsh, though is absolutely a skipper’s lot, especially one who turned 35 this year. But the three figure score, Pakistan’s second of the tour, should buy him some room to manoeuvre, or at least a fond reminder of his merits as a cricketer.
He would be there at the end, unbeaten: Rizwan (53) being undone by the first of Buttler’s two remarkable acrobatic leg-side grabs, with a tougher one against Shaheen Afridi (three) giving a wicket to Woakes and Broad, respectively. Broad would nab a second with a booming drive from Yasir Shah (20) stinging the hands of Root at first slip.
After finally getting his five-wicket haul to dismiss Pakistan, and with the follow-on enforced with a lead of 310, Anderson trudged over to the match referee holding the box of balls for the Pakistan second innings. He would do as he always has done: pick the darkest of the crimson bunch with the most pronounced seam before heading in to freshen up and skip back onto the field at 7:01pm.
However just as the players approaching the middle, they were sent back by the umpires who deemed the light bad enough for an abandonment. So, Anderson walked off, irked but no more so than before. The ball has been selected, the batsmen set-up and enough time overnight to erect as close to the perfect stage.