Now that was one of the most entertaining innings I’ve seen by an England batsman for some time. It wasn’t a brutal seventy ball hundred, full of power hitting and brute strength; it was a study in elegance and panache. Mo, I think I love you.
England were in deep trouble this morning. Alastair Cook won the toss, elected to bat on a pitch that offered a little bit for the seamers, and then watched his batsmen commit hara-kiri. Cook himself played on (he could have been caught at slip a bit earlier too), Hales chipped one to midwicket, Root played an ugly swish outside off, and Vince got a good ball and was caught behind. At 74-4 things were looking decidedly dodgy.
When Gary Ballance edged one to slip shortly after lunch – he got rattled by Wahab’s pace, was pushed back, and looked almost as tentative as he did against Mitchell Johnson last summer – England were in danger of losing the test match already.
Enter Mo. The man for a crisis.
Although he was hit on the helmet first ball, Mo looked completely unflustered. If anything it woke him up. Together with the impressive Jonny Bairstow, he slowly rescued England and earned parity in the contest. 110-5 soon became 200-5. Phew!
When Bairstow was eventually caught behind, Mo was joined by Chris Woakes – who is rapidly turning into a superstar. The Warwickshire man made a beautiful 45 full of classic drives on the up. It was the only time of the day that Mo had a rival in the aesthetics stakes.
Unfortunately however, it was too good to last. Mo was left with the rats and mice. Would he run out of partners? When Broad and Finn were dismissed in quick succession, it was up to Jimmy Anderson, the Burnley Lara (or is it the Burnley Barnacle?), to see England past 300 and Mo to his century. Hearts were in mouths.
We needn’t have worried. When the opportunity came, Mo launched the spinner high and far for six. 95 became 101 and The Oval went mad. I went mad. And my Mrs wondered what all the fuss was about upstairs.
England were finally dismissed for 328. Not a great score by any means but one that looked completely out of reach just a few hours before. When Pakistan lost Sami before the close, the momentum was clearly with England.
When Mo’s head hits the pillow tonight he can reflect on what was his best ever innings for England. He arrived at the crease with his team in trouble, conditions just about favouring the bowlers, and a fired up Wahab steaming in like a man possessed.
Not only did he weather the storm, he played himself in sensibly, showed immense composure, and picked his moments to play all those sumptuous shots that have become his trademark. He looked like a class act. Full stop.
Before I sign off though, I’d just like to mention Pakistan. Once again they let their big chance slip. This time it was their fielding at fault: they dropped Cook, they had Bairstow caught off a noball, and they even dropped Moeen too.
Today could have been a lot different. Being one of their fans must be an even harder gig than supporting England.