Placed second in Wisden’s list of the best Test innings of 2020 is Shan Masood’s 156 against England at Old Trafford.
Shan Masood 156 (319)
England v Pakistan
Old Trafford, Manchester
Opening the batting in England? No thanks.
You’ll mark your guard and put away the flashy drives. You’ll leave one early on and be convinced that it’s just that first half-hour you need to get through. You might even middle one and see a hint of sunshine poke through the clouds.
But then you’ll make that slight error, show a hint of vulnerability, prod that bat out a millimetre too far – and he’ll get you. It’s just what James Anderson does with the cherry-red Dukes.
Shan Masood had been put through the wringer before. In 2016 he’d arrived in England on the back of an Anderson working-over in the UAE the previous winter – the quick took the left-hander’s wicket in four consecutive innings – only to endure further suffering. After four more Test innings, his average against the English stood at a paltry 16.12. Against Anderson, the picture was horrid: 57 balls, 15 runs and six dismissals for an average of 2.5.
So when Masood rocked up at Old Trafford last year with a sturdy-looking stance and two centuries in his last two Test innings, it was time to right some wrongs in a country he’d formed close ties with: runs and wickets as a kid at Stamford School were followed by three first-class appearances for Durham University.
On a rainy opening day, survival was key. Masood left well and played with soft hands: there were edges in the direction of the cordon, but they kept low and travelled for four. He clipped through the leg side and bided his time while Babar Azam – being Babar Azam – became the main attraction. When the right-hander viciously cut Jofra Archer for four, it moved him to 45 from just 64 balls. Masood was on the same score – having faced 67 more deliveries.
There was some luck to be found: Jos Buttler dropped a catch and then missed a stumping, both of those chances spurned off the bowling of the unfortunate Dom Bess. Nonetheless, Masood deserved it for the hard graft of chewing up and spitting out the efforts of the seamers.
The following day was when he finally took over as Pakistan’s leading man in the innings, with The Babar Show ending in the first over of the morning. After Asad Shafiq and Mohammad Rizwan departed cheaply, the enterprising Shadab Khan served as the perfect ally for a proactive Masood. A couple of late cuts off Stuart Broad had him racing through the nineties and, as it had to be, it was with a dab into leg off Anderson that brought up a much-coveted ton. While his first fifty took 156 balls, his second required just 95, and an eager leap with the helmet off showed everyone just what it meant.
Wickets then began to fall at the other end, so it was time to have a bit of fun, with poor Bess bearing the brunt of it: Masood tonked him over midwicket, lifted him down the ground and slogged him off one knee.
On 156, the party stopped, but it’d been a long one: not since Murali Vijay’s 361-ball 146 six years earlier had an opposition opener in England faced so many deliveries in one Test innings. After the misery of 2016, the glory of 2020.