Pakistan lose skipper Azhar as Masood holds firm against England
Pakistan captain Azhar Ali was out for a duck as the first Test against England got underway at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
At lunch, the tourists were 53-2, with opener Shan Masood having batted through a tough session to be 27 not out and Babar Azam unbeaten on four.
With two leg-spinners in Yasir Shah and Shadab Khan in Pakistan's side, there was a logic in Azhar's decision to bat first after he won the toss, with his slow bowlers likely to be more effective on a wearing pitch.
Nevertheless, the overcast skies and piercing floodlights made life tough for opening batsmen with conditions favouring England's four-man pace attack, who had been involved in a recent 2-1 series win over the West Indies completed at Old Trafford.
In contrast, Pakistan's preparation for this three-match series amounted to just two intra-squad warm-up games.
Before play, began there was a minute's silence for victims of the global pandemic in both Pakistan and the United Kingdom.
Pakistan, like the West Indies before them, had opted to go ahead with a scheduled tour of England even though Britain has been one of the worst-hit countries in Europe by the pandemic.
Masood and fellow opener Abid Ali did well to survive the first hour against an unchanged England.
James Anderson, closing in on his 600th Test wicket, took the new ball on his Lancashire home ground in the company of longstanding teammate Stuart Broad, fresh from becoming just the seventh bowler to take 500 Test wickets.
England were without a Test series win against Pakistan since 2010 and they came into this match having lost the series-opener in each of their last five campaigns against all opponents.
Left-hander Masood rode his luck with a couple of streaky boundaries through the slip cordon as a stiff breeze whipped around a largely silent Old Trafford.
As was the case during the West Indies series and England's separate 2-1 one-day international series win over Ireland, this match was taking place behind closed doors, with spectators barred on health grounds.
It meant Pakistan were denied the vibrant and vocal support from both travelling and expatriate fans that is usually a feature of their tours of England.
England, after 60 minutes of toiling away without a breakthrough, were indebted to the sheer speed of Jofra Archer for taking the first Pakistan wicket to fall on Wednesday.
Having tested out Abid with several short-pitched deliveries at around 85 mph, Sussex paceman Archer, with no obvious change in action, then cleverly bowled him with a full-length delivery for 16.
And Pakistan's 36-1 was soon transformed into 43-2 when Azhar was lbw to Chris Woakes for a six-ball duck after the in-form paceman moved one back into the right-hander off the seam.
Azhar reviewed but to no avail.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Dan Mullan