Joe Root had opted for the second new ball with Pakistan languishing at 198/8. Chris Woakes bustled in from over the wicket and took aim at the stumps only to witness the lustre of the mint-conditioned cherry betray him. The new ball pitched around leg-stump and kept swinging down further, making a mockery of Jos Buttler's goalkeeper dive on it's way to the advertising cushions.
Ninety meters away from the action, standing outside the boundary line was Asad Shafiq, having just returned from his lengthy net stint under the watchful guidance of head coach Misbah-ul-Haq. The instant he caught a glimpse of Pakistan being donated a few bonus runs, he couldn't hide his amusement and let escape an uplifting clap. Numbers indeed define who's bossing the game of cricket, but so do moments like these when a player renders it legitimate to applaud four byes.
His gesture was reasonable, though. Runs had been a precious commodity for a major chunk of day two. And Pakistan bothered in the least if they came from lemon cuts to fine-leg or sprightly drives through covers.
Albeit, whatever little progress Pakistan made had a lot to do with Babar Azam's 47 and Mohammed Rizwan's valiant half-century. Needless to say, England's pace quartet made life difficult for the right-handers. Both outside and inside edges were beaten on will, eliciting theatrics galore from the slip cordon. However, with Babar, there was the solace of an ascetic pristineness at the heart of his fidgeting. Not so with Rizwan, who appeared to be batting as if disputing a bout of gastric nerves.
Nothing, although, can detract from the value of their knocks. England laboured bereft of reward in the truncated opening session as Babar and Rizwan held the fort, striking an equilibrium between prudence and flair. While he was guilty of flashing his blade to tempters outside the off-stump yesterday, Babar curbed his natural instincts, shouldering arms to anything and everything that wasn't directed towards his body. He simply didn't look like putting a foot wrong before he did against Stuart Broad to leave Pakistan yearning for impetus at 158/6.
On the contrary, there was an unnerving sense of restlessness gripping the air when Rizwan plied his trade. Yes, the exuberance that is second nature to him did make impromptu appearances now and then in the form of booming swishes or demonic hooks. Still, the urgency was more or less down to his modus operandi of being proactive and accumulating runs. Hunting for scoring avenues, pinching singles, sprinting hell for leather, dispatching the odd loosener. There was a nice tempo to his game even when the runs weren't exactly flowing.
That he was running out of partners forced Rizwan to farm the strike and hit the gas pedal. "When Babar was around, I played second fiddle, but once he got out and I was batting with tailenders, I had to find runs," Rizwan mentioned during the post-match presser. The acceleration jaunt kickstarted with him bisecting the mid-wicket and square leg fielder with an authoritative pull shot off Woakes. Rizwan uncorked a street-smart ramp off Curran before threading consecutive drives as nonchalantly as if he was whisking an espresso. Though nothing was casual about the emphatic boundaries that resulted.
"In Test cricket, there are phases; some you have to be calm and stay in the middle and the other when you have to score the runs. It was difficult... those seaming conditions. We have some wickets like that in Pakistan too, but it's the first time I'm seeing a wicket that is seaming for almost 70 overs'" Rizwan shed light on the track's hostility.
It remains to be seen how many more can Rizwan contribute tomorrow morning and whether his pyrotechnics can eventually yield a match-defining impact. For, the scoreboard beams 223/9, and England are yet to hammer the final nail in the visitors' coffin. Though, one thing's for sure. In a batting order which has chewed through youth like nicotine tablets, the under-fire Rizwan might have bought himself some comforting space to breathe.