Gary Ballance and Moeen Ali kept England competitive on a taxing first day of the third Investec Test against Pakistan at Edgbaston.
Ballance (70) dug in to defy Sohail Khan (five for 96) in half-century stands with James Vince and then Moeen (63) as England eked out a hard-working 297.
There were few thrills and spills as Ballance, with his first 50 in his last seven Test innings spread over more than a year, exercised plenty of caution. The care he took over 150 deliveries, and almost three-and-a-half hours, spread to Moeen – who batted against his usually carefree instincts.
Ballance and Vince, each short of runs in the first two Tests, almost doubled the total in a fourth-wicket stand of 69 either side of lunch after the hosts hit early trouble against Sohail in his comeback match at this level. Then Moeen, in his home town and on what was once his home ground, passed his half-century with a pull off Rahat Ali for his fifth four from 99 balls to help ensure England did not fall too short after surprisingly being put in.
The Pakistan seamers vindicated captain Misbah-ul-Haq as the ball swung on a day of intermittent cloud, in a series locked at 1-1 with two to play.
Alex Hales did some of the necessary hard work before falling first, edging behind Sohail’s outswing, and then Joe Root could add only three runs to the welter he made at Old Trafford – playing away from his body to be caught at slip off the same bowler.
Sohail’s previous two Tests, the last almost five years ago, had brought him a solitary wicket at the cost of 245 runs.
But he was far from flattered by success on his return.
Alastair Cook had a little early luck on his side, twice within inches of edging on to his own stumps – against Sohail on one and then Rahat on 15. Left-armer Rahat got his revenge, beating the England captain on the front-foot defence to win an lbw verdict with Cook five short of his 50.
Much therefore depended on Ballance and Vince, who fared well until the latter paid for revisiting his uncertainty outside off stump and edged Sohail low to second slip as he tried to take the bat away.
Jonny Bairstow went shortly afterwards after a cut shot at Sohail but could only edge behind.
England were reliant on Ballance, and he did not let them down. He took no chances on a slow but reliable pitch, spending 15 deliveries on 49, and going 17 overs between his seventh and eighth boundaries. It was an anti-climax when he then became Yasir Shah’s only victim, very well-caught by wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed who anticipated the sharp turn down the leg-side.
There was little Chris Woakes could do, in his first Test on his home ground, with an exceptionally good ball from Rahat which swung in on the strong cross-breeze and then bounced and held its line for another edge behind.
But, after a Moeen review overturned a bat-pad catch on 44 off Yasir, it was not until Mohammad Amir struck immediately with the second new ball – Stuart Broad well-held head-high at third slip by Azhar Ali – that the next partnership was broken.
Amir also saw off Moeen, edging a drive to give Sarfraz his fifth catch and, after Sohail completed his five-wicket haul by having No 11 James Anderson lbw, Pakistan had earned a marginal advantage.
Afterwards, Ballance said England were “pretty happy” with their total.
The 26-year-old said: “I think we’ve had an okay day. We spoke at tea saying, ‘Let’s get to 300 and we’ll be happy with that’, so we’ve got near enough 300 and I think overall we’re relatively happy. If someone had gone on to get a big hundred, 350 would have been better, but we’re in the game now.
“Guys were getting starts but weren’t able to kick on, but overall we’re pretty happy.”
Ballance exercised plenty of caution but he added: “I felt very good today.
“I’ve felt good the last few weeks, I just haven’t gone on to get a big score.
“I played nice and straight, hit the ball quite full early on and got quite a few drives which went nice and straight and when I was doing that I was very happy. It’s just nice to get a decent score.”