This post will be a fairly brief one, setting the scene for a more detailed one on Wednesday. The main subject is the match that is nearing its end in Karachi. No visiting men’s team has ever won every match of a three+ match test series in Pakistan, and as things stand England, already 2-0 up in the series are 55 runs away from victory with eight wickets standing (and three of those waiting to bat are Root, Pope and Brook, the latter two of whom have had outstanding series) in the final game. This match has featured three things until Stokes was appointed skipper have been in very short supply for the England men’s test team in recent years, and I tackle each in turn.
A WIN ORIENTED MINDSET
England have all too often approached test matches from a perspective of ‘must not lose’. Under Stokes that has very much become the correct ‘must win’ attitude. The first match of the current series, when Stokes boldly offered Pakistan a target of 342 in four sessions (albeit knowing that due to limited daylight both the first and fourth of said sessions would be of reduced length) exemplified this, as did the way England started their chase of 167 for victory in Karachi – rather than ‘make sure we don’t lose any wickets’ Stokes and England opted to see if they could win it before the end of the third day.
PUBLICLY BACKING PLAYERS
There have been two outstanding on-field examples of this in the current match: Harry Brook caused Stokes to be run out, and Stokes as he left the crease made a point of telling Brook not to worry about it. Brook duly scored a superb century. Today Rehan Ahmed took 5-48, a splendid performance (more on this and him in Wednesday’s post), especially for an 18 year old debutant, and when Crawley was first out Stokes decided that was Ahmed’s day and sent him in at number three to play the ‘night hawk’ role – an attacking version of the ‘night watch’ role. Ahmed only scored 10, but he hit two boundaries and helped maintain England’s momentum. Stokes himself went in at number four, but the light closed in. Nevertheless, so much of the task has already been accomplished that even if Pakistan start tomorrow sensationally it is hard to see England even getting nervous, never mind succumbing to those nerves – doing what England did is far preferable to a more conventional 40-0, and almost 130 still needed.
English pitches these days do not often favour spinners with the result that England have struggled in that department in recent times. Jack Leach took his 100th test wicket during this series, and in the period in which I have been an active cricket fan (mid 1980s to present) only one England spinner has taken over 100 test wickets at a better average than Leach – Graeme Swann (Derek Underwood played some of his career during my lifetime, but benefitted from uncovered pitches for much of his career – on a rain affected pitch, or at the other extreme, a dustbowl, he was truly ‘Deadly’, but on ordinary surfaces he was merely very accurate, and I don’t think he would take his wickets at much if anything below 30 each these days). In this match Leach and debutant Rehan Ahmed each claimed seven wickets, and even Joe Root had some success with the ball. This is important – many of those talking about England’s approach under Stokes are understandably dazzled by the incredible batting, but to win a match you generally need to take 20 wickets, and one reason England are poised for ninth win in ten test matches is that they have taken all ten of their opponents wickets in each of the last 19 innings in which they have bowled.
Before my regular photos I have two others that have appeared in previous posts to share for a special reason: Karachi is regarded as something of a fortress for Pakistan, and England are 55 runs away from taking it by storm, so which of the two photographs below do you think is more apt for the circumstances:
Please comment with your answer.
Now for my usual sign off…
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