This series against Pakistan needed an opening match that had the actual cricket as its main focus and thankfully the two teams have delivered in some style. It has been a compelling Test and while it can never erase the indelible stain of the match at Lord’s in 2010 that was exposed as corrupt, it has at least re-engaged the Test match rivalry between the two countries.
There was a poignancy to the return of Mohammad Amir to Test cricket at the scene of his heinous crime but also a sense of catharsis as the Lord’s crowd respectfully applauded him.
Thankfully this match will be remembered for the quality of the cricket and way the momentum swung between the teams.
When Pakistan wrapped up the England innings in the morning and secured a 67-run lead they were in a position of dominance. When play finished with the lead 281 they were in a position of dominance but in the seven hours in between there was plenty of action, thrills and spills and times when there was parity, at least, between the teams.
The main threat for England is the leg-spinner Yasir Shah. He finished the first innings with six wickets and had given notice of how difficult he would be to face on the fourth and fifth days. That would be the same whether England were chasing 240 or 340 but it was imperative that having conceded a first innings lead that England took early wickets.
In a thrilling two hours they fought back and the game was once more finely poised.
Stuart Broad had Mohammed Hafeez caught at second slip forcing off the back foot and then Shan Masood nicked one slanted across him from Chris Woakes, Alastair Cook completing the catch. When Azhar Ali was lbw after a review, again to Woakes, the score was 59 for three and England had momentum.
It got better when first innings centurion Misbah-ul-Haq slogged Moeen Ali high to the legside boundary where Alex Hales took a superb tumbling catch. It was a poor shot by the captain but maybe he realised that the innings had stagnated and England were applying a real squeeze. Younis Khan has been a wonderful player but being a veteran he is not swift between the wickets. Misbah tried to inject some urgency and perished.
More quick wickets were needed as England had authority and at 79-4 Jake Ball enticed a legitimate edge off Asad Shafiq but it flew knee high between third and fifth slip. Sometimes a captain has to gamble where to stick his catchers and for Cook this time he chose wrongly.
Shafiq enjoyed his good fortune and with Younis he wrestled the advantage back for Pakistan.
Such has been the nature of this match though that just when the match was settling into a rhythm for the visitors Younis dragged on to Ali. The lead was 196 but England once more had an opening. Another quick wicket and the game would be afoot but Sarfraz Ahmed brought a hustle into the Pakistan innings, and in particular Shafiq, that had been lacking.
He immediately attacked, both with shot and running between the wickets and was a very busy presence at the crease. He kept the scoreboard moving, even when Shafiq was bowled by Woakes, and with every run England’s batsmen cringed as they knew how difficult it would be to chase.
Shafiq’s 49 was a labour of love and had nothing aesthetically pleasing about it but it was a crucial innings for his team.
The bounce was getting lower, there was movement for the seam bowlers and spin for Ali and he survived 96 balls and eked out an advantage for his side.
He will get much bigger scores than this 49 but it was a valuable and hard-fought innings.
Once the lead was 250 every extra run was cruel, especially for Steven Finn who delivered a fine late evening spell for very little reward. He beat Sarfraz twice and then watched a lobbed catch fall tantalisingly short of Broad’s despairing dive.
This desperation was compounded when Yasir was dropped by Jonny Bairstow. Finn screamed to the skies, the next ball went for four and the lead increased. It will take some effort for England to win this Test match but win it they can. The series looks like a cracker.