Print&Features editor Sophie Utteridge comments on the first test between England and Pakistan that had a thrilling finish
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Pakistan test matches never disappoint.
For the first time in seventeen years, England have returned to Pakistan for a three match Test series which promised to showcase Test cricket at its finest. It was a rocky start for the series, however, when a virus in the England camp threatened to delay the start of the first match. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) deliberated the best course of action, leaving cricket fans around the world worried that Pakistan’s glorious return to Test cricket would not be as spectacular as everyone hoped. But luckily, England soon recovered enough to field an eleven, albeit looking slightly haggard on the first day.
But despite concerns, the first match certainly did not disappoint.
Opening the batting on Day 1, England found themselves facing the express pace of Naseem Shah and Mohammad Ali. The Rawalpindi pitch itself had been under scrutiny by fans and pundits alike, with the PCB’s Chairman, Ramiz Raja, calling the square ‘embarrassing’ as England racked up a record-breaking 506 runs on the first day alone. The flat, half-baked surface was an all too bitter reminder of Pakistan’s series against Australia in March where both matches ended in draws after high-scoring batting displays from either side. Raja went on to blame the lack of Test cricket in Pakistan for the poor quality of pitches, and assured the world that by next year, Pakistan would be far more prepared for further Test series.
Yet, in the end, the pitch did not seem to stop the players. Out of the top five, four of England’s batters scored centuries, including Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope, and a maiden century from Harry Brook. Brook in particular demolished Pakistan’s attack, including a 24 run over off debutant Saud Shakeel – certainly an over he’ll want to forget. After a short burst from Ben Stokes, England ended the day on 506/4 – breaking the record for the most Test runs scored in a single day.
Even as early as Day 1, it seemed all set for an England win. But Pakistan responded in kind.
Abdullah Shafique, Imam ul-Haq, and captain Babar Azam all matched England’s centurions with centuries of their own before eventually all being caught. Whilst their performances were not the most flamboyant when compared to England’s players breaking records, I think there is something to be said for the way Pakistan’s centurions quietly went about their innings. It reminded me of the Test batters of old – classy, elegant, and notoriously difficult to remove. Other good contributions from Pakistan’s batters included a half century from Agha Salman and a measured 37 from Saud Shakeel before England’s Will Jacks swept into the attack, taking 6-161 on debut with his off-spin.
England’s second innings was not as dazzling, but no less dramatic. Brook, Crawley, and Root, who had been uncharacteristically quiet up until that point, each scored decent half centuries but failed to convert as England declared on 264-7. Pakistan’s bowlers shared the wickets fairly evenly, before heading into their final innings to chase England down.
Ollie Robinson opened up for England, taking the wicket of Shafique. Stokes swiftly followed, taking Babar Azam’s wicket just an over later. Shakeel and Rizwan both put up a good fight before being removed by Robinson and Anderson respectfully. Unfortunately for Pakistan, it was all downhill from there. Robinson and Anderson cleaned up, taking four wickets each. It was tense for England fans who were watching as each run brought Pakistan closer to victory but, with a final effort from the ever-brilliant Leech to trap Naseem LBW, England won by 74 runs.
Despite the issues with the pitch, and the constant dialogue over Pakistan’s capability to host a Test series, I believe that this match will go down in history as one of England’s greatest Test achievements. In a tweet, Alison Mitchell wrote: “Adventurous. Bold. Spectators edge of their seats. Test cricket” – a fitting description of just how entertaining this match came to be. With twists and turns at every ball, what more could you want from Test cricket? Both teams showed their class on an incredibly flat pitch, proving once again that it is not the conditions that dictate who is victorious, but the quality of the players themselves.
I am looking forward to the rest of the series, as well as Pakistan’s upcoming Test series with New Zealand just after Christmas. England’s win is definitely appreciated, but I cannot wait to see how Pakistan will reply in the second Test. If this match is any indicator, I am sure it will be just as fiery.
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