One of cricket’s finest clichés is that catches win matches and, more often than not, it is a frequently spouted phrase that ultimately rings true.
On the first day of the first Test in Abu Dhabi, England are already facing up to the fact that they may well have shelled their chance of victory.
With Pakistan 12-1 after James Anderson had Shan Masood bowled via his helmet, Mohammad Hafeez knicked England’s leading Test wicket-taker to Ian Bell at second slip while on just 7.
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Going to Bell’s left at knee height, the chance was straightforward but somehow the ball escaped his grasp and dropped to the Sheikh Zayed Stadium’s turf to the dismay of bowler and fielders.
Adding insult to injury, Bell put down centurion Shoaib Malik with four overs of the day remaining, again off Anderson and again an easy chance.
At a ground where runs are scored in spades, you can ill afford to drop chances, let alone ones as routine as Bell’s two drops.
In seven Abu Dhabi Tests, batsmen average 38.25 – the most at any ground to have held more than five Tests – and there has been 21 centuries registered at an average of 3 per Test, another worldwide high.
With temperatures upwards of 38C and humidity at 44% you want to reduce your time in the field by as much as possible and having Pakistan two-down inside the first hour would have marked a fine effort in search of doing just that.
The second sitter would have left things in the balance on day one and given England a crucial dart at a new bat in fading light, while buoying an otherwise downtrodden side.
The first would have brought Younis Khan to the crease early on, a significant England objective in a bid to get Pakistan’s soon-to-be highest run-scorer in facing the new ball.
After Pakistan announced that lynchpin leggie Yasir Shah would miss out in the UAE capital it was the perfect opportunity for England to make a statement and put Pakistan on the racks while Shah’s absence was still raw.
Bell’s late drop equally quelled the chance of vital momentum at a key moment.
Rather than be seized, both opportunities were missed by Bell and it proved pivotal.
Hafeez went on to register 98 and put Pakistan in total control of not only the Test match, but also the series.
By the time England took that second wicket, it was tea and the Hafeez -Shoaib Malik partnership was worth 168.
The game – and ultimately the series – could have taken on a completely different complexion on its opening day had Bell taken those chances.
To take twenty wickets here is difficult at the best of times, with runs a plenty at – normally – a punishingly slow rate to make those long hours in the sun even more brutal.
Ian Bell drops another one off Anderson. This time Asad Shafiq at 10 http://t.co/fZXyZFYFLj #PAKvENG #cricingif pic.twitter.com/Z1jIk6Yvk8
— Cricingif (@cricingif) October 13, 2015
And for an away team to bowl the hosts out twice is practically unheard of.
It has happened only once before in 2012 when England ended up losing by 72 runs having been bowled out for 72 in the fourth innings.
This will feel like a long day for England, one where they looked at times like wilting.
There may be a long way to go in this Test, and indeed the series, but such flash in the pan moments in Test cricket can often be the difference between an historical victory and ignominious defeat.
The visitors will be hoping that it was not a sign of things to come as they desperately aim to avoid another series whitewash in the Emirates.