James Taylor half-century keeps England on top against Pakistan

Published: Monday 2nd November 2015 by The News Editor

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James Taylor’s maiden Test half-century kept England on track to take a valuable mid-match advantage over Pakistan at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.

Taylor, returning for just his third Test more than three years after his first two, vindicated his inclusion with a priceless 74 not out as England closed day two on 222 for four in reply to 234 all out.

The diminutive middle-order batsman, cast adrift by the selectors after three innings against the might of South Africa in summer 2012, arrived at the crease following the loss of two wickets for seven runs in this must-win third Test.

But after Alastair Cook and Ian Bell’s second-wicket stand of 71, then the departures of the captain and Joe Root in quick succession, Taylor calmed nerves better than anyone.

He was assured against spin and pace alike, hit the gaps and harried between the wickets in a 100-ball 50 which contained four fours and was duly completed with a characteristically scampered single.

England lost Moeen Ali early after resuming on four without loss, but Cook and Bell gave them a foothold before Taylor took over – notably in the second half-century partnership of the innings, an unbroken 83 alongside Jonny Bairstow.

On a slow pitch which provided turn for England’s spinners on day one, there was less evident help initially for Pakistan’s frontline pair of Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar.

Cook and Bell nonetheless did well to adapt their batting rhythms to the limitations of perhaps the world’s slowest outfield – putting a premium on boundaries and downgrading to binary what would in usual circumstances be twos and threes.

Moeen appeared to be under orders to play to his free-flowing strengths, and grab what he could while he could after England resumed on four without loss.

It was fine for as long as it lasted b ut the slog-sweep against the tide to Shoaib Malik was high-risk, and so it proved to the off-spinner’s fourth delivery – Moeen looping an unmissable edge to slip.

Bell then soon announced himself by going up the wicket to Zulfiqar and hitting him cleanly for six over long-off, before booking in for the longer haul to suit requirements.

Cook’s only obvious issue was avoiding the leg trap set by Yasir, which accounted for him last week in Dubai.

One run short of his fourth 50 in five Test innings, it did so again – a thin edge on to his pad playing on the back foot and a neat catch at short-leg.

Rahat Ali then worked over Root, no mean feat against the world’s number one batsman, and got his reward with a full-length outswinger edged behind for a low, diving catch by Sarfraz Ahmed.

England were 17 for two in the hour after lunch.

Taylor and Bell withstood increasing spin for Zulfiqar, and Rahat and Wahab Riaz’s efforts to swing the old ball, until tea.

But two overs into the evening, Bell advanced to Yasir and – despite trying to bail out into defence – could not cover the turn and was stumped.

He had taken 158 balls over his 40 runs, but it was a classic case of the end justifying the means.

If England could nose in front, or better, all contributions were welcome – not least Bell’s, which spanned two crucial partnerships.

The next, between Taylor and Bairstow, built on previous hard work.

Taylor had his 50 just before the second new ball was taken.

Runs then flowed most freely in the final hour, as the fifth-wicket stand grew – and so did England’s chances of victory here to earn a most honourable series draw against the odds.

:: Ben Stokes will not be available to bat for England until they receive results of Monday’s scan on his right shoulder, after he injured himself in the field on day one.

Published: Monday 2nd November 2015 by The News Editor

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