Sport

This is Test Match Cricket like we have never seen again.

So, another series win for England under the captaincy of Ben Stokes and the coaching of Brendan McCullum. And another enthralling test match. This one was won by just 26 runs and sealed a historic series win. And it is historic for two reasons. For one thing, it is England’s first tour of Pakistan in 17 years. Not since 2005 had England played in Pakistan, back when Michael Vaughan was captain, Andrew Flintoff was the star all-rounder and Jimmy Anderson was just starting on his journey to becoming England’s GOAT. And to see England tour Pakistan again is a really wonderful thing. Pakistan is a country that is absolutely passionate about its cricket and has produced some of the finest players the world has ever seen. It also boasts some of the best players today. Babar Azam is a masterful batsman in any form of the game, and Shaheen Afridi and Naseem Shah are deadly pace bowlers. This is a very good cricketing side. And the second thing that makes this victory historic is that it is England’s first series win against Pakistan outside of England in 22 years. Before this series, England had only two away Tests against Pakistan in 60 years. They had never won two consecutively. Now they have a chance to complete a first ever series whitewash in Pakistan when the final test gets under way in Karachi on Saturday.

More than that though, it is the manner of the two victories that has been the headline grabber. Both victories saw England take the game by the horns and attack with bat and ball. While the pitch at Rawalpindi has subsequently been given a poor rating by the ICC, England’s batting on the first day was simply unreal. To score over 500 in one day in remarkable on any pitch. But what was even mor impressive to me was that fact that they also managed to take 20 wickets on an absolute road of a pitch. That wicket may as well have a section of the M4. But still, the bowlers and the captain were able to put their plan into action and get the job done. It was also a brilliant show of Ben Stokes as a captain. Ever since he took on the captaincy, Stokes has never looked too conservative in the role. Joe Root for all his obvious skill with the bat could be accused sometimes of being overly cautious, on more than one occasion refusing to go for run chases that were seemingly in reach for England if they attacked. I’m absolutely certain that Joe Root would not have declared at tea on the fourth day. He would have looked to build up a lead closer to 400. And then England would have run out of time. But, Stokes’ endlessly positive approach to playing the game has seeped into the rest of the team. They go on the attack in every session with bat or ball. In Multan, they got into trouble of their own making. A silly collapse of 5-19 on the third morning could have left the door open for a Pakistan team with good form in completing big run chases. It was Mark Wood who managed to turn the game back in England’s favour, taking the crucial wickets of the set batters. Both dismissals were short balls squeezed down the leg side, but crucially broke the partnership that seemed to be seeing Pakistan home. It still had that typical Stokes positive attitude and application. It was just really fun and engaging to watch. It’s the best cricket I’ve seen England play since Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss were at the helm of the team.

Huge credit also has to go to Pakistan for how they have played in these two test matches. They have contributed massively to the spectacle that these two test matches have been. They so nearly saw out the final day in the first test and were inches away from completing a significant run chase to pip the second. They may have lost both these games but they have shown what a fine team they are.

Also, shining the ball on Jack Leach’s head is iconic.  

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