Pakistan’s win at Lord’s in the opening Test set this entertaining series alight, but England could not have responded more emphatically. They completed a 330-run win at Old Trafford on the fourth evening in a manner that answered many of the questions Lord’s presented.
Given a firm pitch of decent bounce and pace, England’s pace attack exposed the vulnerability of Pakistan’s batting line-up and they will yearn for more of the same at Edgbaston and Old Trafford. They played Yasir Shah with skill – 1 for 264 in the match, although much of the reason for that rested with the captain, Alastair Cook, and Joe Root, the golden child, whose first-innings deeds took the match out of Pakistan’s reach.
If it had been the fifth day, there would have been an air of tension as Pakistan’s last pair held out with the floodlights burning, the light fading and the sense of showers around. But England’s task was completed a day early, the debate over their decision not to enforce the follow-on with a first-innings lead of 391 made entirely redundant.
There was a cloud on England’s horizon, however, and it came in the form of a torn calf suffered by Ben Stokes. Only just back from a knee operation, Stokes broke down in the middle of his sixth over and will play no further part in the match; he might play no further part in the summer. A strong, raw-boned man, his injuries are piling up with disturbing regularity. However, the emergence of Chris Woakes, seven wickets in the match, will ensure the balance of the side is not unduly affected.
If England chose the conservative option by not enforcing the follow-on, nobody could suggest their second innings lacked impetus as they rattled up 173 for 1 at nearly a run a ball before the declaration – the last 75 in nine overs on the fourth morning. “Couldn’t have gone better,” said Cook
Misbah-ul-Haq now faces a huge task to rally his side in the nine days before the third Test at Edgbaston. When Pakistan’s captain became the fifth wicket to fall 15 minutes before tea – out for 35 as he jabbed a wide yorker from Woakes on to his stumps – the edifice always looked likely to crumble.
Pakistan, set a notional 565 to win, faced the demanding task of batting for 11 hours to save the Test. That is longer than a full season of Game of Thrones. The first hour before lunch did not go awfully well: two wickets down already, with even the most ardent Pakistan supporter braced for the inevitable.
James Anderson was a Lancashire lad in his element, revelling in overhead conditions that enabled the ball to swing and an excellent pitch that seems to have become harder and bouncier as the Test has progressed. Shan Masood and Azhar Ali were pocketed in the 16 overs up to lunch, Anderson claiming 2 for 13 in a masterful seven-over spell.
Firstly, there were formalities to be dealt with, namely the dismissal of Masood by Anderson. It has become as natural a task as removing the top from a bottle of milk. Masood is popped on to the doorstep as Anderson awakens to his task and with a silent nod of thanks he helps himself.
There have been two ways to remove the bottle top: short balls of tight line which Masood has deflected on to his stumps, or routine outswingers. This time Masood succumbed to the latter, edging to Cook at first slip. He has been out to Anderson six times in six innings now (in Tests in which both have played) with no score of substance. There again, he is merely following a trend: the last time Pakistan’s openers reached a fifty-stand in a Test in England was 24 attempts ago by Aamer Sohail and Saeed Anwar at The Oval in 1996.
With Masood out of the picture, it was the inswinger that did for Azhar, bowled tighter to the stumps and having the batsman lbw as he tried to work him through square leg.
At such times, a batsman with a 50-plus Test average and a penchant for marathon innings comes in useful. That batsman was Younis. But Younis looked spooked by a pitch that is much bouncier than those to which he has become accustomed in the UAE.
In the first innings, he danced across the crease to Stokes as he fell to a leg-side catch. The John Travolta of the Test circuit was still at it in the second innings, rearing his back leg as he received his first ball from Anderson, and repeating in on several other occasions. Stokes should have dismissed him on 3 but Cook dropped a sitter at first slip.
A quick chorus, in deference to Travolta, of “You’re The One That I Want” would have been appropriate and Moeen did just that, defeating Younis in the flight as he sallied down the pitch to launch him off the bottom of the bat to long-on.
Moeen evinces little threat but somehow the wickets tot up. By then he had already removed Mohammad Hafeez, who had resisted in stately manner until he was caught at short leg with one that turned and bounced. Not many did that, but once again Moeen has probably done just enough with the ball to retain England’s affections.
Misbah is playing his first Test series in England at the age of 42, a time when it should be almost impossible to adapt to the intricacies of such alien conditions, but since the beginning of the series, his good sense – both in his batting and as a figurehead for his team – has been commendable. He bore his responsibilities gravely, resisting the pace bowlers and sweeping Moeen with confidence.
But his departure made the capture of five wickets after tea look a formality: After all, Woakes is carded to bat No 8 for England; by then Pakistan are already down to Yasir Shah.
Sarfraz Ahmed departed in the first over after the resumption as the slightest deflection off the glove gave Woakes a leg-side strangle. The following over, Asad Shafiq, who had played neatly, fell lbw to an Anderson nip-backer as England successfully reviewed.
That just left the dregs. Yasir fell lbw to Moeen as he tried to pull and there was a brief appearance by Root, who added a wicket to his 325 runs in the match: two balls into his solitary over, Wahab Riaz’s ungainly slog sweep at a ball well outside off stump top-edging gently into the hands of Cook at short fine leg. Mohammad Amir rode his luck for a while, but the rain held off, Woakes once again revealed the knack of taking a wicket in his first over (Graeme Swann-like, except without the gab), when Amir drove to mid-off and there was no need to come back in the morning.