Today was day four of Pakistan v England in Rawalpindi, and a remarkable day it was too. In this post I look at the events of the day and ahead to tomorrow and the future of international crickets oldest and greatest format, test cricket.
THE END OF THE PAKISTAN FIRST INNINGS
Pakistan boosted their total from an overnight 499-7 to 579 all out. All three wickets fell to Will Jacks, giving him 6-161 on test debut, his first ever five wicket innings haul in first class cricket. Agha Salman managed a 50.
THE ENGLAND SECOND INNINGS
England went about the business of extending their first innings lead of 78 with considerable spirit and gusto. At lunch they were 46-2, with Duckett and Pope gone. Crawley made exactly 50 before he was third out, and then came a gorgeous partnership between Root and Brook. Root at one point switched to batting left handed (his younger brother Billy, now at Glamorgan after spells with Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, is actually a left handed batter). Root was fourth out, having scored 73, which was just enough to put his test average at 50.00. Stokes fell cheaply, but Jacks hit 24 off 13 balls, and then the injured Livingstone joined Brook, who was on for breaking the record for the fastest ever test ton by an English batter. That was not to be, as when Brook had reached 87 off 64 balls Naseem Shah clean bowled him to make at 264-7, a lead of 342. The umpires called tea, and as it transpired Ben Stokes decided that with only the crocked Livingstone and three specialist bowlers left it was time to declare. This move basically took the draw off the table.
PAKISTAN’S SECOND INNINGS
Pakistan set off in pursuit of the target of 343 with some brio, but Ollie Robinson induced Abdullah Shafique to pull a ball into deep square leg’s hands, and later in the same over the new batter, Azhar Ali, was injured and returned to the pavilion. Ben Stokes had rival skipper Babar Azam caught behind, but Imam-ul-Haq and Shakeel Saud lasted until fading light brought the usual early close to proceedings. Pakistan were 80-2 at that point, and therefore will need 263 with 7+ wickets standing (even if Azhar Ali can resume his innings at some point tomorrow he will not be fully effective when carrying an injury). Thus a game which in other circumstances would have been the drabbest of high scoring draws enters day five with three results possible and the draw (barring rain) not one of them. I would say the England win is most likely of the three, the Pakistan win a not too distant second and the tie, which would only be the third such result in test history cannot be entirely ruled out – in many ways this extraordinary match deserves such an outlandish final outcome.
STOKES’ DECLARATION & TEST CRICKET’S FUTURE
There were many criticisms of Stokes’ declaration on twitter, but none from me. Stokes has said many times that he has no time for draws, echoing the legendary Somerset fast bowling all rounder and skipper of yore, Sammy Woods, who once said “draws…they are for bathing in”, and this was a case of him putting that philosophy into practice. Although it represents a major gamble it was a logical move on two grounds:
- With Livingstone injured and having only specialist bowlers for company England were probably not going to score that many more runs anyway, and why gift Pakistan with the morale boost of three cheap wickets post tea?
- England’s best route to victory lies paradoxically in keeping Pakistan interested – if the set target was entirely nominal Pakistan would shut up shop and a couple of their number would boost their batting averages courtesy of some red ink.
By taking such a hardline stance and effectively eliminating the draw from consideration Stokes has done test cricket a great service. Many of cricket’s most successful skippers have been so precisely because of a willingness to take risks in pursuit of victory. Stuart Surridge, captain of Surrey for five seasons in the 1950s and winner of the county championship in all five of those seasons, was noted for making declarations that no other skipper would have dared to, and getting away with it very frequently. He once set Somerset, with a batting line up led by the aggressive Harold Gimblett 297 in 315 minutes, and even with Gimblett scoring a rapid century Surrey won with half an hour to spare. On another occasion Surrey had bowled Worcestershire out for 27, and were 92-3 in reply when Surridge declared as he wanted a second bowl at Worcestershire that evening. Laker and Lock took the new ball, and each had nabbed a wicket by the close, and the following morning Worcestershire were all out for 40, losing by an innings and 25 runs. This remarkable victory sealed that year’s championship for Surrey.
Ben Stokes this match has demonstrated how a captain who is fully committed to taking an enterprising and aggressive approach can generate results even on surfaces that are practically tailored to prevent such. Whatever happens tomorrow, in spite of it being played on a surface which is IMO unfit for test cricket due to being ridiculously loaded in favour of the batters this match will go down as a classic test match, fit to stand alongside the great Ashes battles of 2005 and that is down to England and Stokes’ commitment to go all out for victory even if doing so means risking defeat. This match has confounded many people’s expectations of how test cricket is/ should be approached, and that is all to the good as far as I am concerned. Whatever the final result I unreservedly applaud Ben Stokes and his England team for their approach to the game.
My usual sign off…
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