Shoaib Malek plays a slog-sweep during his unbeaten century against England at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Malek’s 168-run partnership for the second wicket with Mohammad Hafeez steadied the innings. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/gulf news

Abu Dhabi: Shoaib Malek made a fairytale comeback into the Test arena with an unbeaten century (124 not out) while Mohammad Hafeez fell just two runs short of the landmark as Pakistan reached 286 for four in 87.0 overs on the first day of the first Test against England at the Shaikh Zayed Cricket Stadium on Tuesday.

Giving Malek company at the end of day’s play was Asad Shafiq on 11, who got a letoff when Ian Bell spilled a catch late in the day.

After being left out of the Test team for five years, Malek made it back into the squad on the basis of his ODI form and got picked only after Azhar Ali failed to make the team following a foot infection.

It was a daunting challenge to fill in the void left by Ali at No.3 but the 33-year-old showed nerves of steel and grabbed the opportunity with both hands. His third Test century was all the more noteworthy because his 168-run partnership for the second wicket with Hafeez rescued his team from a spot of bother after Shan Masoud was dismissed early.

However there was disappointment in store for Hafeez as he fell short of a first century against England just before tea — leg before to Mark Wood for 98. Old warhorse Younis Khan looked to be in a hurry to keep the scoreboard moving and though he surpassed Javed Miandad’s tally of 8,832 to become Pakistan’s Leading run-getter in Tests, was sent back after scoring 38. Skipper Misbah ul Haq didn’t last long either and trudged back to the dugout shaking his head after the third umpire ruled him out for a faint knick off Anderson.

Earlier, Anderson had forced opener Masoud to duck into a slow bouncer and the ball brushed the latter’s grille and crashed onto his middle stump. Anderson now has 415 Test wickets to his name and has crossed Pakistan legend Wasim Akram, who had been in 10th place on the all-time wicket-takers’ list.

Anderson would have added another wicket to his kitty had Bell not spilled a sitter at second slip to give Hafeez a lifeline when he was on seven. England were left to rue that bit as Hafeez kept growing in confidence after that and, by lunch, put Pakistan in a position of strength at 81 for one.

Pakistan’s scorecard read 173 for 2 when Hafeez departed, with Malek going strong on 72.

It was by no means the dream debut leg spinner Adil Rashid would have wanted when he was handed his Test cap by former England skipper Michael Vaughan as he clearly struggled with his length and was very slow through the air. Anything floated up was dealt with mercilessly, especially by Hafeez. In his first 10 overs, Rashid gave away 58 runs.

Malek, soon after crossing his previous best score of 39 set against England at Multan in 2005, got a lifeline after Joe Root at gully overstepped while trying to take a catch off the bowling of Stuart Broad.

Pakistan are very much on course to post a challenging first innings total but skipper Misbah is well aware that the absence of legspinner Yasir Shah, out with a back spasm, will hurt his team dearly. He minced no words in taking a dig at the management for not picking an extra spinner in the squad soon after winning his seventh toss in eight matches: “It is mis-management and we are really disappointed by this.”

The gamble has paid off so far for Pakistan with Malek carrying his ODI form into Tests and more importantly holding fort for the team. With the pitch already showing some turn, all that Pakistan and Misbah will be now hoping for is for Malek to also chip in with some wickets with his handy off-spin.