Jos Buttler and Dom Bess saved England from a three-day defeat against Pakistan with a memorable rearguard stand at Lord’s.
Buttler, fresh back from the Indian Premier League for this NatWest Series opener after 18 months out of the Test reckoning, joined forces in the unlikeliest of circumstances with debutant No.8 Bess to give England hope where there was none.
Realistically, after being previously outplayed in every department, the best outcome for the hosts is surely still only respectability – but following a determined 68 by captain Joe Root, the unbroken century stand for the seventh wicket has at least ensured Pakistan must bat twice to prevail.
A stumps total of 235 for six, and still-vulnerable lead of only 56, looked fanciful in the extreme when Buttler (66no) and Bess (55no) were thrust into damage limitation still 69 runs behind on 110 after England had lost four wickets for 19 runs.
After their first-innings 184 all out, the hosts were in danger of faring even worse second time round.
Buttler found himself batting with the 20-year-old new boy, chosen here only after fellow Somerset spinner Jack Leach’s injury and who doubtless grew up watching his senior partner thrilling the crowds in Taunton before his move to Lancashire.
It was great credit to Bess that increasingly he was able to match Buttler shot for shot, as both scored freely off either foot through the off-side especially on the way to respective 93 and 89-ball half-centuries.
England’s evening well-being was a far cry from their previous struggles after they began their second innings 179 runs adrift once Mark Wood bounced out Pakistan’s last man Mohammad Abbas early on a sunny morning.
Immediately, the hosts were in trouble again. This time, Abbas made short work of Alastair Cook.
The opener battled hard to top-score with 70 on Thursday but had managed only a single at his second attempt when Abbas had him missing some late movement to go lbw on the front-foot defence.
Both openers were gone by lunch, Mark Stoneman failing to snap out of his poor early-season form for Surrey and looking out of touch before going back to a Shadab Khan leg-break which scuttled through out of the rough to bowl him off-stump.
Root and Dawid Malan avoided mishap in the first hour of the afternoon.
But after a stand of 60, the stoic Malan fell to Mohammad Amir straight after drinks – with an edge behind, where Sarfraz Ahmed took an excellent catch diving one-handed low to his left.
Jonny Bairstow was then bowled for a second-ball duck through the gate by a beauty that snaked back up the slope in the air from the left-armer.
By tea, the game appeared almost up after two more big wickets – Root once again continuing his uncanny and unwelcome knack of failing to turn 50s into hundreds, taking the sequence to nine in succession since his 136 in last summer’s day-night victory over the West Indies at Edgbaston.
Ben Stokes hit two of his first three deliveries for four, only to then pick out the hands of midwicket as he tried to stab another boundary off Shadab.
Then the captain’s determined contribution foundered as the returning Abbas took another up the slope to have him lbw.
At that point, England were down and out – but no one had told the prides of Taunton and Sidmouth.