England, chasing 277 to win, looked dead and buried at 117-5, but Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes‘ 139-run partnership turned the tide
This was the second highest run-chase to win a Test at Old Trafford: captain Joe Root praised his side’s never-say-die attitude
England’s first-innings deficit was 107 – this Test signalled the third time in the last two summers the hosts have overturned a 100+ run deficit to win
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – Following Ben Stokes‘ Headingley heroics last summer, England put faith in Chris Woakes’ all-round ability by putting him in at no.7 as he scored 103 runs at Old Trafford to guide England home.
Joe Root‘s England do not make it easy, but my word are they entertaining. In fact, with no other Test matches imminent due to coronavirus, they are almost single-handedly keeping the oldest form of the game alive with the eyes of the world watching.
Even as late as 4pm on the final day, England fans would have been severely questioning the selection and game-plan of their team: leaving out one of their best six batsmen in Zak Crawley in favour of an extra bowler – who were all in reasonable form – and then conceding a 107-run first innings deficit never looks good.
However, England’s bowling effort in the second innings gave them hope, dismissing Pakistan for 169 – including four wickets for the two all-rounders Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes in just nine overs – and, despite losing 4-31 in what seemed to be a match-defining 50-minute spell, the last of which was Ollie Pope to an unplayable lifter from Shaheen Afridi, Woakes and Jos Buttler counter-attacked brilliantly, forcing the momentum away from a Pakistan side that were in control for virtually the entire Test match.
It’s fair to say that in this current England side, Buttler and Woakes aren’t the first names on the team sheet. England’s batting order always looked a bit light, especially when you consider the pair’s recent form with the bat: since 1 January 2019, no.6 Buttler averages 26.4, and no.7 Woakes had a high score of 37 not out from his previous 17 innings.
However, both men have immense temperament, always looking calm and unflustered whether they are coming off a lean spell with the bat or whether they have just plundered a century. They are the sort of characters dressing rooms love to have, particularly this Test team who are relatively inexperienced, barring the Stuart Broad–James Anderson bowling duo. For Buttler to post 75 in the last innings of a Test (the highest contribution from an England wicket-keeper in their second innings since 2016) after he had recorded six fielding errors, his highest total in Tests, shows just how much determination he possesses. The spotlight will still be firmly on Buttler’s ability behind the stumps. However, no more doubts should be thrown at whether he has the game for Test cricket.
Realising one of their most talented batsmen had just been dismissed to a delivery that would’ve removed anyone in the side, Woakes came to the crease and seized the initiative. It dawned on the 31-year-old if he and Buttler simply played to survive, they would be walking back to the pavilion and England’s hopes would be dashed with only bowlers left to come. They had to attack Pakistan, throw them off their unrelenting line and length, and make them do something different in the field.
Forty-nine balls later, the 50 partnership was brought up and Azhar Ali‘s fielders retreated. As seems to be the way with the forever topsy-turvy nature of Test cricket, the pitch stopped fizzing and firing, and the two calmest men in England steadily progressed their team towards a famous victory, which marks a sixth-successive win under Root’s captaincy: the longest run of his reign as skipper. Although the performance levels haven’t been consistent this summer, Root’s side are finding different ways to win, and that is no bad thing.
Azhar Ali’s team, unlike England, had seemingly got everything right. They won the toss, bravely batted first under gloomy skies and posted over 300, helped predominantly by a magnificently constructed century from Shan Masood, his first on British shores. Even their selection of two leg-spinners looked to have paid off when the ball started ripping out of the rough early in England’s first innings response. Pakistan will hope the sweltering conditions in the south of the country continue, as eight wickets in the match from Yasir Shah underlines his value to any tourist success this summer.
However, cricket is a funny game. No sooner are the headlines all about you, as in Masood’s case on day two, then you nick one down the leg side for a duck just over 24 hours later and your side are dismantled for just 169, just 13 more than you made single-handedly in the first innings.
When further dissecting Pakistan’s batting performance, worries start to develop. Captain Azhar, who has played 79 Tests, seems to have been worked out by Woakes, who dismissed him twice lbw to a ball angling-in. Opener Abid Ali made two starts without ever looking as if he was comfortable. A lot of media focus has gone on Babar Azam, who has been averaging 69 since the start of last year, and he looked classy in the first innings but was dismissed twice to a similar ball in the channel. England have clear plans to Pakistan’s big fish, and they seem to be working so far. Test cricket is always at its best when the conditions allow for the ball to dominate over bat for a session or two, and with the two bowling attacks on show, we are in for a lot of momentum shifts throughout this series as mini-collapses are more than likely.
A word must be reserved for the young Naseem Shah, who at just 17 years of age is ripping through established Test batsmen with 90mph rippers (what were you doing at 17?) He was also caught on camera staring down the batsman on more than one occasion, showing he certainly has the stomach for the fight. He may have only picked up two wickets, but they were big ones: Ollie Pope in the first, who top-scored, and captain Root in the second, who was well set on 42.
As much as they look a quality bowling outfit, Pakistan’s tail is a worry. As much as England’s lower-order has come under scrutiny, the visitors lost their last five wickets for just 45 runs in the first innings and only 49 runs in the second. Both sides may be over-relying on top order runs, but low scoring Tests are often the most exciting, so expect another close game when the teams roll into Southampton on Thursday.
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