The second Test was “a differently played game” according to Ben Stokes. It still resulted in England winning in Pakistan though, which is not a thing that had happened too often until this month.
The match has left us with quite a few half-baked thoughts rolling around our largely empty head. Rather than waiting for them to coalesce into something coherent, let’s opt for premature spewing instead.
It is good to play in Pakistan. It is good to play in different places
There was a great feel to England’s T20 tour of Pakistan a few months ago. (Here’s our recap.) It was not just that it was hotly-contested. It was hotly-contested at least to some degree because it felt like such a rare and exciting thing for everyone involved.
While that was England’s first visit to Pakistan in pure time, the Test tour has retained that same feel as crowds have been great and because these remain unfamiliar conditions now that we’re onto the five-day stuff. This brings a freshness to proceedings – you just don’t know how each match will go.
It’s not just that this England team are going about things in an interesting way. Being somewhere less familiar actually magnifies that. The moral of this is not just that it’s good to come and play in Pakistan; it’s that it’s good to go and play in all sorts of different places, against all sorts of different teams.
Different durations, different bowlers, different batters, different pitches, different places. Variety has always been, and should always remain, cricket’s greatest strength.
Pakistan are very much doing their bit
We don’t think it’s too one-eyed to suggest that Pakistan are the junior partner in the making-the-series-worth-watching stakes. Junior maybe, but still vital.
Without Pakistan’s titanic first innings batting, England’s helter-skelter last minute victory in the first Test would have been a far less dramatic and unnecessarily-paced win. In this Test Pakistan brought Abrar Ahmed into our world and then got within 26 runs of chasing 355 in the fourth innings.
It always takes two teams to make a fun Test series.
England are bowling sides out
It’s masked a little by the carpet bombing batting approach, but England’s bowlers are really performing of late. It’s now 17 Test innings in a row that they’ve bowled out the opposition. That’s no mean feat.
A key part of this is of course the batting however. England haven’t really struggled for bowlers these last few years – even when they’ve been shit – it’s just that they’ve generally had nothing to bowl at. Making actual runs is therefore proving very helpful. Doing so quickly also tends to mean that it’s either 10 wickets or defeat – time hasn’t often come into the equation.
The attack is being used in a clear-minded way too.
Ben Stokes is very much not Joe Root as a captain
Yesterday we tweeted and tooted how the Root to Stokes captaincy switch has provided a strong argument both against and in favour of making your best player captain. Stokes has been incredible and deserves plenty of plaudits, but we can’t help but think that everyone is being awfully nice in not highlighting the incredible contrast with Root’s stint in charge.
Root famously started out as “Craptain” and somehow descended from there. Wispy and ethereal was our verdict on his leadership when he finally stood down. And it was pretty clearly deeply unfun playing under him towards the end too. It feels a bit mean to dredge this up because Root’s fallen into line under Stokes without a hint of ego and is visibly enjoying himself, engaging in airborne arse-bumps with Mark Wood to celebrate wickets and the like. He’s such an admirable cricketer and person in so many ways.
But we can’t help it. We just keep getting all these reminders that trigger visions of a parallel timeline where Root’s still in charge.
In Pakistan’s first innings, James Anderson bowled two overs with the new ball, took a wicket in the second of them, and then didn’t reappear until the 29th over of the innings. Second time around, his first over was the 16th of the innings and his sixth was the 60th.
If that first innings usage seems a bit clever-clever and overly committed to a reverse swing strategy (he could surely have bowled a third over with the new ball with a full night’s sleep not long away) then just imagine how Root would have used Anderson in this match. Regardless of whether he was still in his right-arm fast-medium phase or not, Jimmy would have been used anything but sparingly.
What we’re saying is that this is what England fans could have – this or something very like it – but instead they’ve got Ben Stokes. Enjoy it.
Harry Brook is doing the early Joe Root thing with knobs on
Another Root comparison to finish. England have had a fair few Massive Young Talents come into the team over the years and every player acclimatises to international cricket differently. Ollie Pope’s made an erratic start. Jonny Bairstow was all over the place before mastering one-day cricket and then becoming unstoppable in Tests this summer. You may or may not be old enough (or perhaps you’re too old) to recall that Root’s arrival was characterised by him looking weirdly untroubled.
After 73 and 20 not out on Test debut against India in 2012, he went into his first spell of one-day internationals early the following year and made successive scores of 36, 39, 57 not out, 31, 56, 79 not out and 28 not out. Even if he wasn’t dominating, he looked like a man who had gone up a level of cricket and it was just absolutely no big thing.
There is a whiff of this in how Harry Brook has arrived at the bar and put in an absolutely gigantic order. Three Tests in, he has made 153 off 116 balls, 87 off 65 balls and then 108 off 145 balls. He’s hit six fours in six balls and somehow that wasn’t even his most productive over.
Brook had (quite understandably given how it’s been working for him) been overly aggressive in the first innings of this match, but second dig he recalibrated to the extent that he only scored four runs off his first 26 balls and 13 off his first 41. Then he started hitting fours and sixes again, like it was some weirdly easy thing.
Yes, it’s early days, but by the yorker of Waqar he’s packed a lot into them.
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