When the Pakistan captain, Misbah-ul‑Haq, waved his batsmen in on day two with 523 for eight in the bank, England’s spinners – Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Joe Root and, somewhat surprisingly, Ben Stokes – had shipped 302 runs in 70 wicketless overs.
It is a shirt front of a pitch, yes, and it was against a masterful display of batting bythe double-centurion Shoaib Malik after a five-year absence, granted, but it is hard to see the first two days of this three-match series as anything other than an ominous start for the slow men.
Given the swaths of column inches and airtime dedicated to the absence of options for the selectors since the retirement of Graeme Swann in late 2013, these figures – the most conceded by an England spin attack without reward – will not surprise anyone. Not even Stokes, a player with that knack for making things happen, could pick the lock when, for just the second over of his first-class career, he transmogrified into an off-break bowler on the stroke of the tea interval.
By that stage, with the home side in full control, the Yorkshire leg-spinner Rashid had suffered the ignominy of bringing up the costliest set of numbers by a Test debutant without taking a wicket, with his 34 overs, none for 163 surpassing the inglorious none for 149 from Australia’s one-cap wonder Bryce McGain, against South Africa in 2009.
And Rashid’s senior partner Moeen – just 17 Tests into his own career and still striving to replicate the snap to his action that surprised Indian’s batsmen in breakthrough summer last year – had endured his first wicketless return when sending down more than 12 overs in an innings, with none for 121 from 30.
Rashid’s economy rate of 4.69 – less crushing than the 8.25 that McGain was taken for in Cape Town six years ago – should not be a disappointment if his career at Yorkshire has been studied. There, under the captaincy of Andrew Gale, he has licence to spin the ball hard and create chances without fear of recrimination for the runs column.
That no genuine chances – bar some miscued hoiks in Pakistan’s quest for quicker runs – were in fact created will be of greater concern. His lack of penetration, which some attribute to an average speed of 49mph, cannot pass without note even if Pakistan’s batsmen, as per the post-play words of the No6, Asad Shafiq, had made it their intention to prevent him from settling.
The first two days of Rashid’s Test career – one that has been seven years in the making since his initial call-up to a squad at the end of 2008 in India – are unlikely to be followed by his last three. England have dragged him around the Caribbean and five Ashes venues this year; like any cricketer, he must get a run.
He bowled marginally better on the second day too, hauling his run rate back under five by going around the wicket, shortly after his runs against column passed 100. He beat the edge five times over the course of Pakistan’s innings and when he finally teased the glove of Shafiq in the 106th over, the ball died before reaching the solitary slip.
There is a groundswell of goodwill towards the leg-spinner – England’s barren history in the art form plays its part –with those backing the Yorkshireman recalling the one for 150 that went against Shane Warne’s name first time up. While this well-intentioned mention of the great man may be slightly unhelpful, Rashid, 27, is a cricketer with 410 first-class wickets; the guy can bowl.
It is also worth remembering Pakistan’s two previous visitors to their Abu Dhabi stronghold, New Zealand and Australia, were taken for a combined 1,136 runs in the two first innings, with the spinners sharing just three wickets between them.
When Brendon McCullum bowls 10 overs of his lesser‑spotted medium pace in a Test match – as he did here last winter – Stokes’s brief experiment as an offie doesn’t look so crazy either.