Ben Stokes stars as England peg back Pakistan in thrilling First Test

BEN STOKES just could not be kept away from the action any longer. He demanded to do something important.

Sure enough, after not bowling for a Test-and-a-half, Stokes grabbed the ball and promptly took a wicket with his eighth ball and another with his 21st.

Not bad for a bloke who is meant to be playing as a specialist batsman.

They were vital blows and helped drag England into a position where winning the First Test is possible.

Stokes had Mohammad Rizwan lbw and then bounced out No.9 Shaheen Shah Afridi. In between, Stuart Broad trapped Shadab Khan leg before.

Pakistan finished day three with 137-8 – an overall lead of 244 runs. It could be a cracker.

Stokes’ thigh strain prevented him bowling in the Third Test against West Indies and in Pakistan’s first innings here.

But he has been practising his bowling every day and itching to have a go. After all, his contribution had been modest – out for a duck in the first innings and a couple of catches as well as a drop.

Joe Root finally gave him his wish with 40 minutes remaining on day three.

With the pitch taking turn and Pakistan’s attack full of magic and mystery, it will be a heck of a challenge for England to win this match.

But they have done well to claw back after conceding a first innings deficit of 107 runs.

It must be said, however, that England have been noticeably more quiet in the field than Pakistan.

The touring team chirped and encouraged and received plenty of vocal support from the non-players on their hotel room balconies or in the dressing-room.

Even though the ground was empty, the chat created an atmosphere that, if not intimidating when England batted, was certainly lively.

After England were bowled out for 219, Shan Masood, who batted for almost eight hours in the first innings, managed just ten minutes in the second before edging a catch down the legside.

Abid Ali was dropped on four by Stokes diving in front of Root at first slip off Jimmy Anderson. Two balls later, he forced Anderson through the covers for four.

Anderson could have done with that wicket and he kicked the turf in frustration.

The Lancashire legend has been short of wickets so far this summer – he has none in the second innings of any match – and knows there are one or two mutterings about the future of a bowler who is now 38.

Anderson also put down Asad Shafiq on 14, a difficult, diving chance at backward point off Chris Woakes.

England are dropping too many catches at the moment.

Abid Ali didn’t last long, slogging Dom Bess to deep mid-wicket, and then Woakes removed both star batsman Babar Azam (Stokes held on at second slip this time) and captain Azhar Ali.

Pakistan were 63-4 and in danger of surrendering their advantage. But Shafiq and Rizwan scampered and scurried 38 useful runs for the fifth wicket. The momentum was strongly with Pakistan once more but then Dom Sibley produced a slice of brilliance in the field.

The ball bounced perfectly for Sibley, who threw down the stumps from the covers with Shafiq a yard short of his ground. It seems losing 12kgs during lockdown has not done Sibley’s fielding any harm.

In the morning, England’s batsmen were put under pressure by Pakistan’s super-skilful bowlers and did well to lose only one wicket.

It came when 17-year-old Naseem Shah coaxed bounce from the pitch and Ollie Pope spliced a catch to gully. Pope, providing further evidence of his class and strong temperament, top-scored for England after coming in at 12-3.

At 17 years and 174 days, Naseem became the third-youngest bowler to take a wicket in Test cricket in England.

Two balls later, Naseem hit Woakes on the helmet as the Warwickshire player’s difficulties against short bowling were exposed again.

England endured their third terrible post-lunch session on the trot as Pakistan swept through their batting.

Leggie Yashir Shah had a spell of 3-4 in 27 balls, beginning with a delivery that skidded on and penetrated the narrowest of gaps between Jos Buttler’s bat and pad.

Buttler made 38 patient runs but that wasn’t enough, especially after he reprieved Masood twice on 45 on day two – and the opener went on to make 156.

Yasir accounted for Bess and Woakes while the other leg-spinner, Shadab, dispatched Jofra Archer and Anderson.

Broad chimed in with an aggressive and useful 29 not out, which would have been six runs fewer if Shadab had not dropped a dolly catch at deep square leg off Yasir.

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