Greetings from the frozen wastes of Norfolk. It is currently four degrees outside with a significant wind chill, and that represents the least bad it has been in the last 48 hours. The second test of the Pakistan v England series is currently taking place in Multan, and may even finish tomorrow, while I would bet money against there being a day five.
England decided to persist with Pope as keeper and number three even though Foakes was available. Mark Wood came into the side to strengthen the bowling. For Pakistan there was a debut for leg spinner Abrar Ahmed and a recall for Faheem Ashraf. Ben Stokes won the toss and chose to bat first. This was soon seen to be a correct call as there was already evidence of turn on day one.
Ben Duckett made a fluent 63 and Ollie Pope 60, and there were some other useful contributions down the order. The story of the innings however was the debutant Abrar Ahmed, who took the first seven wickets to fall with his leg spin. This puts him second on the all time list to Alf Valentine who took the first eight wickets to fall in his debut match. The other leg spinner, Zahid Mahmood broke the sequence, and in the end claimed the last three wickets. England were all out for 281 from 51.4 overs, and some were condemning the team’s new, much more aggressive approach. However my own reckoning was that England of a year or so ago would not have batted much if any longer on this pitch and would have scored many fewer runs. Also of course, first innings efforts should really be assessed only after both teams have batted – and that would apply with a vengeance this time round.
Pakistan batted well in the remaining overs of day one, reaching 107-2. Babar Azam was especially impressive, while James Anderson, the man who just keeps on bowlin’, claimed the first wicket to fall to seam bowling in the match and Jack Leach extended the tally of wickets taking by bespectacled spinners to eight. With Pakistan looking well placed the would be writers of ‘bazball obituaries’ were having themselves a field day in spite of England’s record since Stokes assumed the captaincy full time being won seven, lost one.
Pakistan seemed to start day two as they had finished day one, scoring well, but then Babar Azam fell for 75 to make is 145-3. Mohammad Rizwan took his place in the middle and the game tilted on its axis. It took Rizwan 25 balls to get off the mark, and even with two fours he managed in total 10 off 43 balls, and Pakistan went into a tailspin. Leach picked up his second, third and fourth wickets of the innings,, Root bagged two in an over with his part time off spin and Wood took two wickets along the way. It was only a lusty last wicket stand between Faheem Ashraf and Abrar Ahmed that got Pakistan past 200. They were all out 202, and England had a 79 run lead on first innings, precisely the same advantage they enjoyed in Rawalpindi, but one that looked a lot more significant on this surface.
England lost two early wickets, Crawley running himself out and Jacks promoted to number three in order that Pope could have more of a rest from his keeping. Root also failed by his own high standards, but Duckett played superbly once again, scoring 79. His dismissal, bowled by one from Abrar Ahmed that shot through low, was an ominous sign for Pakistan – they had needed him out, but they did not need to see a ball doing that with England already over 220 runs to the good. Pope was run out cheaply to make it 155-5, but skipper Stokes stayed with Brook until the light brought an early end to proceedings. By then England were 202-5, 281 runs ahead, with Brook 74* and Stokes 16*. Abrar Ahmed had taken his tally of wickets on debut to 10, but the two run outs meant that he could not equal the record performance by a debutant (16 wickets, achieved twice, by Bob Massie of Australia in 1972 and Narendra Hirwani of India in 1989). The alacrity with which Pakistan headed for the pavilion when the umpires decided the light was no longer good enough was telling as to their state of mind just two days into this match. The events of this second day’s play, rather like the events post Stokes’ declaration at Rawalpindi, left the naysayers looking more than a little foolish. It is dollars to doughnuts that at some point tomorrow or Monday the series score will be 2-0 to England.
Just before the photographs, I shared an old post in a twitter discussion this morning and it was well received. Now for my usual sign off…