If cynics wondered whether Abid Ali was given an easy start to his international career, making his debut against a slightly weakened Sri Lankan side at home last year, his first away tour could have hardly drawn a sharper contrast. He was tasked with seeing off a new ball hurled at him by the two most prolific fast bowlers active in the sport, and while the Pakistan opener admitted he had found it “really difficult”, he felt he had come out of it having learned from the experience.
“It was very difficult out there,” Abid said after making 42 on the fourth day in Southampton. “This is one of the great bowling attacks, and I always like to challenge myself. Unfortunately, I couldn’t deliver a really big innings, but I tried to keep improving my game. I was prepared; I just knew I needed to get settled on the crease and things would get easier. I was trying to bat time, as long as possible.”
A tally 139 runs in 5 innings might not sound like much, but it would be simplistic to measure his contribution by series aggregate. Before Michael Gough adjudged him to be out leg before, Abid had faced 162 balls in Pakistan’s second innings and stayed at the crease for one delivery short of 50 overs. It meant that by the time Babar Azam, Pakistan’s best batsman, walked out, he wouldn’t have to reckon with a ball barely four overs old, but one that had lost all its movement. Instead, he only needed to face two overs of pace before the light deteriorated enough to force Joe Root on, allowing him time to settle.
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Shortly afterwards, the conditions forced stumps to be called, and unlike 48 hours previously, Babar would be unbeaten overnight to have a go again. In a game where the best result Pakistan can look forward to is a draw, all of that might not come across if you just looked at the scorecard and saw Abid had been dismissed after ostensibly wasting another promising start.
“My job is to see off the new ball. That was the team requirement, and I fulfilled that role. Mentally, my target was to bat time and make it easier for the batsmen lower down. That worked today, and we set small targets. Things like, ‘let’s bat out the next hour’, and so on. The weather helped us, but I was fully focused on doing what the side required. Babar is one of the best players and he’s batting alongside Azhar, who after yesterday is in brilliant form. We’ve had a good day, and our plans worked. The weather isn’t in our hands, but we are fully prepared to play positive cricket and save the Test match.”
This might have been his longest innings in terms of ball faced, but Abid has put a high price on his wicket all series. His first-innings dismissal this Test was the only time he fell to either of James Anderson or Stuart Broad in their opening spells. In the second Test, when Shan Masood found his troubles against Anderson had come rushing back, Abid anchored the innings, scoring his only half-century of the tour, protecting an out-of-form middle order until as late as the 38th over. And while he didn’t quite manage the series-defining innings to rubber stamp his contribution to the series in the way his fellow opener Masood did in the first Test, but he was keen to emphasise he would come away from the series a better batsman.
“I think the tour went well, and we had a good time. We played well as a team, and the mistakes we made we’ll look to learn and come back from. Azhar [Ali] found form with a brilliant innings, and [Mohammad] Rizwan has been a big positive. We tried to help each other and my first tour has been a learning process for me, and I’ll be a better cricketer for it.
“Several of our batsman did decently, but we all feel we could have done better. This is my first tour, and I tried to give my best. I was intent on seeing off I wanted to see off the new ball, it’s obviously one of the best new ball bowling attacks in the world. So it wasn’t easy, but I think I managed to play my role well enough. I’m looking ahead to the future to improve my batting further, especially if we play abroad, where it’s harder to score runs.”
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