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Pakistan’s Babar Azam hits sublime half-century to frustrate England

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pakistans babar azam hits sublime half century to frustrate england

Just about the best performance from an England bowler came during a rain break on Wednesday when substitute Mark Wood completed a skilful seven-man move in a game of head football that would not have been out of place up the road at the other Old Trafford.

Otherwise this was an infuriating and quite possibly costly start to the highly-anticipated second Test series of this blighted summer for England, with Pakistan showing why they will prove a much tougher nut to crack than West Indies.

And an embarrassing one for the great old game, too, when umpires Richard Illingworth and Richard Kettleborough inexplicably ended the day prematurely for bad light with the floodlights shining down and two spinners in operation. Truly unbelievable.

Babar Azam struck a fluent half-century as Pakistan frustrated England at Old Trafford

Babar Azam struck a fluent half-century as Pakistan frustrated England at Old Trafford

After England made inroads earlier in the day, Babar struck nine 4s for his half-century

After England made inroads earlier in the day, Babar struck nine 4s for his half-century

Every scoring shot was perfectly-executed as the 25-year-old burnished his reputation

Every scoring shot was perfectly-executed as the 25-year-old burnished his reputation

All that talk about bursting out of the blocks, about the need to finally make a good start to a Test series proved to be hot air on a cold day when England’s first-choice attack looked flat and listless up against an overlooked figure among the world’s top batsmen.

They were supposed to have been rejuvenated by being allowed out of England’s strict bio-secure bubble after five weeks to be with their families for five days but they looked as though they were still stuck in quarantine.

Yes, Babar Azam showed why his captain Azhar Ali said before this first Test that he already belongs in the same company as Steve Smith and Virat Kohli as he progressed to a classy unbeaten 69 in Pakistan’s 139 for two.

But England could only blame themselves for that because they let the most in-form batsman in world cricket over the last two years settle after he was lucky to survive a beauty that squared him up from Chris Woakes first ball.

At that stage England could be perfectly happy Azhar did what Jason Holder was so reluctant to do and bat first after winning the toss at Old Trafford because they had not only contained Pakistan but took two quick wickets.

Pakistan opener Shan Masood was closing in on a studied half-century before the tea interval

Pakistan opener Shan Masood was closing in on a studied half-century before the tea interval

Tea was called early with ground staff rushing on with the covers in rainy Manchester

Tea was called early with ground staff rushing on with the covers in rainy Manchester

The old firm of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, still stubbornly together despite England’s efforts to break them up, failed to make an early breakthrough and it was only when Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes came together that things started to happen.

This has not been the happiest venue for Archer in his short career as he had his poorest game of the Ashes in Manchester last year, then missed the second Test against West Indies after breaking Covid protocols before under-performing in the third.

Now he delivered an absolute beauty, shaping in to bowl Abid Ali, before Woakes, correctly keeping his place after his five-wicket haul here last week, trapped the most experienced member of the Pakistan line-up in Azhar.

That, though, was where the good news ended for England as their decent early work was wasted after lunch with one of the poorest sessions with the ball their attack have produced for some time.

Anderson strayed too far down the leg-side from the James Anderson End that doesn’t seem to suit him, Broad tended to buck his recent full trend by bowling too short and Archer again seemed to be operating within himself. 

Jofra Archer (centre) celebrates after taking the breakthrough wicket of Abid Ali

Jofra Archer (centre) celebrates after taking the breakthrough wicket of Abid Ali 

The Pakistan opener was bowled by Archer for 16 on the opening morning at Old Trafford

The Pakistan opener was bowled by Archer for 16 on the opening morning at Old Trafford

Pakistan's Abid Ali mops his brow as he walks off having been bowled by Jofra Archer

Pakistan’s Abid Ali mops his brow as he walks off having been bowled by Jofra Archer

Chris Woakes appeals for the wicket of Pakistan captain Azhar Ali, trapped lbw. Pakistan wasted a review appealing the umpire's out decision

Chris Woakes appeals for the wicket of Pakistan captain Azhar Ali, trapped lbw. Pakistan wasted a review appealing the umpire’s out decision

Perhaps Wood would have been better employed bowling than auditioning for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as an alternative to Jadon Sancho.

For Anderson Wednesday was a worry. He did not make much of an impact in two Tests against West Indies on his return from injury and would have been the obvious candidate to miss out here had Ben Stokes been fully fit to bowl.

Perhaps it suited Joe Root to protect Stokes and name an unchanged side even though he had a decent bowl before play because it would not have been easy to tell the 38-year-old he would be dropped on his home ground. 

But this was a frustrating day for a bowler who was far from happy with himself for failing to produce his trademark consistency.

Once upon a time England could turn to their off-spinner in Graeme Swann to bring control when the seamers were struggling but Dom Bess remains a work in progress at this level and struggled to take a chance to bowl denied him in the last Test.

But Bess did at least force two chances from the stubborn Shan Masood, both when he was on 45, that were missed by Jos Buttler. The first was a difficult catch but the second was a straight-forward stumping for a keeper at this level.

England celebrate Azhar Ali's dismissal, their second wicket of the morning at Old Trafford

England celebrate Azhar Ali’s dismissal, their second wicket of the morning at Old Trafford

A dejected Pakistan captain Azhar Ali walks off following his dismissal for a duck

A dejected Pakistan captain Azhar Ali walks off following his dismissal for a duck

England's bowling brains trust Stuart Broad and James Anderson speak on the opening day

England’s bowling brains trust Stuart Broad and James Anderson speak on the opening day

A show by Abid Ali off Anderson's bowling flew past the diving Rory Burns in the field

A show by Abid Ali off Anderson’s bowling flew past the diving Rory Burns in the field

Opening batsman Abid Ali dodges a Jofra Archer bouncer during the morning session

Opening batsman Abid Ali dodges a Jofra Archer bouncer during the morning session

Pakistan won the toss and decided to bat first under gloomy skies at Old Trafford, Manchester

Pakistan won the toss and decided to bat first under gloomy skies at Old Trafford, Manchester

The England team stand for a minute's silence for the victims of Covid-19 before the match

The England team stand for a minute’s silence for the victims of Covid-19 before the match

The questions, sadly, will start up again about Buttler if the errors with the gloves that have crept into his game this summer – his dropping of Jermaine Blackwood at the Ageas Bowl probably cost England the first Test against West Indies – negate the progress he made with the bat in the last game.

If England’s day was maddening then the English umpires who, with the exception of the excellent Michael Gough, have had difficult summers, reached a new low with their over-officious interpretation of rain and bad light regulations.

Firstly they came back out at least half an hour later than they should have done after a lengthy break for rain – England happily enjoyed their game of head football when they could really have been playing cricket – and then came more bad light farce.

Archer’s short ball policy to Babar on the resumption was always likely to attract the attention of the bad light police but when Bess and Root himself joined forces England should have been allowed to bowl for at least another hour.

As it was off they went after just 49 overs of the first day and with another precedent set for light which could come back to haunt the umpires for the rest of this game.

All the hard work, all the expense and all the sacrifice of the opponents to get the game going again in these awful times and then they all troop off with not the remotest bit of danger for the players. Cricket must do better or the Test game really will die.

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12pm Arsenal transfer news LIVE: Aouar deal ‘this window’, Partey boost as Simeone calls Torreira, Raya LATEST

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12pm arsenal transfer news live aouar deal this window partey boost as simeone calls torreira raya latest

PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG has committed his future to Arsenal by signing a new three-year deal at the Emirates.

And there is good news on the Gunners’ transfer pursuit of Houssem Aouar and Thomas Partey.

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Get all the latest news and transfer gossip from North London here…

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Wilfried Zaha has the perfect chance to impress his suitors as Crystal Palace head to Man United

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wilfried zaha has the perfect chance to impress his suitors as crystal palace head to man united

Does it even count as summer if Wilfried Zaha isn’t agitating to leave Crystal Palace for somewhere with a little bit more prestige and prominence?

The opening weeks of the season are like an enormous shop window for the winger to illustrate his class and this year has been no exception.

Zaha started 2020-21 with a clinical volley to settle Palace’s Premier League opener against Southampton last Saturday and once again enters the limelight at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Wilfried Zaha scored a well-taken volley to open his account for the season last weekend

Wilfried Zaha scored a well-taken volley to open his account for the season last weekend

Wilfried Zaha scored a well-taken volley to open his account for the season last weekend

It's been another summer window packed with transfer speculation for the Palace winger

It's been another summer window packed with transfer speculation for the Palace winger

It’s been another summer window packed with transfer speculation for the Palace winger

The fact Zaha will come up against Manchester United, where he endured a painful couple of years between 2013 and 2015, should be irrelevant really.

That’s because as long as the transfer window remains open – and it does until October 5 – Zaha will know he has the chance to impress potential suitors and maybe get that long-awaited move.

But what better way to remind everybody of your class than by scoring or at least playing well away to United? By helping Palace win at Old Trafford as they did at a similar stage of the season last year.

Furthermore, it’s a United side hampered by a shortage of match fitness, with Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood and Aaron Wan-Bissaka among Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s regulars that may be absent.

It’s a golden opportunity for Zaha. As shop windows go, this isn’t your Thornton Heath backstreet, it’s Harrods or Selfridges.

There has been interest, as usual. The Ivorian has been linked with Chelsea, Everton, Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco and Borussia Dortmund this summer.

Palace manager Roy Hodgson greets Zaha after his winning goal against Southampton

Palace manager Roy Hodgson greets Zaha after his winning goal against Southampton

Palace manager Roy Hodgson greets Zaha after his winning goal against Southampton 

The Ivorian star has been linked with Chelsea and Everton, among others, this summer

The Ivorian star has been linked with Chelsea and Everton, among others, this summer

The Ivorian star has been linked with Chelsea and Everton, among others, this summer

The interest rises and fizzles out again as it has in the past few summers. 12 months ago, Arsenal and Everton were the two contenders for Zaha’s signature but Palace wanted as much as £80m and that proved too expensive.

He met with then Arsenal boss Unai Emery but the Gunners offered only £40m. Everton bid £50m but Palace held firm. 

With United due 25 per cent of any sell-on fee, a stipulation of the deal that saw Zaha return to Palace for £6m in 2015, Palace need to ensure they get top dollar.  

But with Covid ravaging football finances, that £80m asking price would almost certainly be less this summer but it will take some sparkling Zaha performances in Palace’s next three games – intriguingly against United, Everton and Chelsea – to reignite interest.

There is a school of thought among some Palace fans that Zaha reserves his best performances for the transfer windows as he tries to push through a transfer.

Zaha endured a painful couple of years at Manchester United between 2013 and 2015

Zaha endured a painful couple of years at Manchester United between 2013 and 2015

Zaha endured a painful couple of years at Manchester United between 2013 and 2015

He spent plenty of time warming the bench, making just four appearances for the club

He spent plenty of time warming the bench, making just four appearances for the club

He spent plenty of time warming the bench, making just four appearances for the club

Zaha takes on Ashley Young and Scott McTominay as Palace beat United 2-1 last season

Zaha takes on Ashley Young and Scott McTominay as Palace beat United 2-1 last season

Zaha takes on Ashley Young and Scott McTominay as Palace beat United 2-1 last season

Crystal Palace fixtures 

All Premier League

Saturday Manchester United (A)

September 26 Everton (H)

October 3 Chelsea (A)

October 17 Brighton (H)

October 24 Fulham (A)

October 31 Wolves (A)

Dates subject to change

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In 2016, just after Zaha had helped Palace reach the FA Cup final, where they lost to United, Tottenham submitted a £12m bid that was described as ‘ridiculous’ by chairman Steve Parish.

Spurs could offer Champions League football but didn’t up their offer and Parrish shut down any chance of Zaha being sold. The winger didn’t score or set up a goal for the remainder of the window.

At the end of the season, Zaha committed to Palace, signing a new five-year contract and leaving the summer of 2017 free of speculation. He signed despite interest from Spurs, Man City and Arsenal.

He duly went on to enjoy a good season, scoring nine Premier League goals and creating another five, with a late season flourish steering Roy Hodgson’s Palace away from relegation danger.

The summer of 2018 saw Chelsea submit a £30m offer, while Spurs retained an interest, and Zaha produced some of his best form during the window, scoring against Fulham and Watford before going on to have a superb season having extended his contract again.

But last year, despite that Arsenal and Everton interest, Zaha couldn’t produce his best form during the early season and that set the tone for a sub-par campaign.

He is contracted at Selhurst Park until 2023 but little time passes without the 27-year-old making the transfer gossip columns.

The way that Palace’s form collapsed post-restart, when they lost seven consecutive games to drop from ninth to an eventual finish of 14th, no doubt reinforced a desire to make a step up.

Roy Hodgson hopes he will be able to build his team around Wilfried Zaha and Eberechi Eze

Roy Hodgson hopes he will be able to build his team around Wilfried Zaha and Eberechi Eze

Roy Hodgson hopes he will be able to build his team around Wilfried Zaha and Eberechi Eze

And Palace seem to regard his departure as inevitable, whether this year or sometime soon, as shown by their purchase of the talented 22-year-old Ebere Eze from Queens Park Rangers.

Eze would appear to be Zaha’s successor on the left wing even if Hodgson would be delighted if the pair were able to work together for this season at least.

But there’s no denying that Palace’s trip to Old Trafford allows Zaha the perfect opportunity to show his suitors why they need to bid for him.

Visits to Old Trafford no doubt stir all kinds of emotions for Zaha but getting one over his former club could have positive implications well beyond the 90 minutes on Saturday.

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Man Utd vs Crystal Palace: Live stream, TV channel, kick-off time, and team news for TODAY’S Premier League game

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MANCHESTER UNITED get off and running in the Premier League with a home game against Crystal Palace today.

The Red Devils were given the first weekend of the season off after a gruelling European fixture list, but will hope for a better performance than they put in during a friendly defeat to Aston Villa.

Once again the Premier League will start behind-closed-doors

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Once again the Premier League will start behind-closed-doorsCredit: AP:Associated Press

Palace meanwhile are looking to build on a strong campaign last time out and got their season off to the perfect start last week, beating Southampton 1-0.

What time does Man Utd vs Crystal Palace kick off?

  • This Premier League clash is set for Saturday, September 19 – TODAY.
  • Kick-off is at 5.30pm BST.
  • When Palace visited Old Trafford last season, they memorably won 2-1 with a stoppage time winner from Patrick van Aanholt.

What TV channel is Man Utd vs Crystal Palace on and can I live stream it?

You can catch this game live on Sky Sports Main Event, Premier League and Ultra HD.

Coverage begins at 5.15pm.

If you don’t have a Sky subscription but want to watch, grab a NOW TV pass from just £9.99.

What is the team news?

Donny Van de Beek is set to make his Man Utd debut, but Mason Greenwood is set to miss out after his England antics.

Phil Jones is a confirmed absentee, while Paul Pogba, Victor Lindelof and Anthony Martial are all doubts.

For the visitors, Gary Cahill, Patrick van Aanholt, James Tomkins and Nathan Ferguson are all missing.

LINE UP Manchester United XI Predicted XI 3

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Match odds

  • Man Utd to win – 3/10
  • Draw – 4/1
  • Crystal Palace victory – 17/2
  • Both teams to score – 19/20

*All odds from Ladbrokes and correct at time of publication.

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