The First Test between Pakistan and England ended in a thrilling, if not controversial conclusion, something which had seemed extremely unlikely up to twenty-four hours earlier.
Some sporting encounters can have the ability to provide such a close and exciting conclusion that one can easily forget the banal lead up. Cricket, especially the limited overs format, can give us such a heart-stopping, heart-pumping last few overs that it is common to forget those ‘boring middle overs’ you witnessed, or slept through, earlier.
This match had meandered along at such a pace few were looking forward to each new day and those who had given up before the end will have missed an exciting last day.
It is often said of cricket in the sub-continent that matches can move along very slowly, and then all of a sudden things change very quickly. It is vital to make sure you stay in the game throughout, to take advantage. Towards the end of 2000 England won only their second series in Pakistan thanks to a famous win in the dark at Karachi. Success was possible back then after umpire Steve Bucknor refused the home side’s desperate requests to go off the field as he became frustrated with their time-wasting tactics. England were then able to knock the runs off to register their first series win in Pakistan since 1962.
But this time was different. Bucknor, along with cricket in Pakistan is a distant memory for England and so it was the ICC received much of the abuse for the rules laid down permitting the umpires to call the game off with England needing just 25 to win. They had been set 99 to win in 19 overs but only 11 were possible as Pakistan did what every other side around the world would’ve done and slowed the game down to allow the light to intervene. What will puzzle the casual viewer is how it is possible to have lights on in a stadium yet the umpires stop play through ‘bad light’. But cricket can be a funny & complicated game, which perhaps is its downfall. This sort of finish will do little to fly the flag for the test match cricket, although I would imagine the way the game reached its unforeseen conclusion may well gloss over that.
In June there were those who scoffed at the engineered conclusion for the rain-affected One-Day International between England and New Zealand, with suggestions of the end of the game being nigh. Yet within days grounds were equally as full for the next exchanges.
It is easy to complain about a system which seems to permit play under lights if they come on from the beginning of the day, yet when they have not been used and are then required, the regulations state play must cease.
Pakistan were recently on the other end of a decision for bad light in a ODI in Harare although the circumstances were much different as firstly, there are no floodlights at the ground and there’s far less freedom to waste time during an ODI as there is in a test match.
What is a shame about the whole affair is many were left debating this one single issue rather than a game which suddenly burst into life during the final afternoon. England had batted on during the fifth morning and declared their innings 75 runs ahead. But when Jimmy Anderson took the wickets of Shan Masood and Shoaib Malik in his second over to leave the hosts 3-2, it dawned on the Pakistanis things could get a little nervy if they didn’t knuckle down and concentrate.
The fact England got so close to winning the game in Abu Dhabi is more given the hosts scored 523-8 in their first innings. Even more remarkable when you consider Pakistan’s record at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium. Pakistan may not enjoy the privilege of playing at home, but their record in the UAE is probably better. Abu Dhabi, in particular, has become a fortress. They are unbeaten from their seven previous matches at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium with the last two victories from margins of 248 and 356 runs respectively. One of the more remarkable statistics about Pakistan’s record at the ground is they have won the toss six out of seven times. This became seven from eight when Alistair Cook called incorrectly on Tuesday. Misbah-ul-Haq had no hesitation in electing to bat but England soon made a breakthrough when Jimmy Anderson, fit after missing the last two Ashes Tests, bowled Shan Masood in the third over. Shan could be considered a bit unlucky as he was slightly late on a defensive shot and the ball bounced under his bat and onto the stumps.
Before the toss, former England captain, Michael Vaughan presented debutant Adil Rashid with his first England cap. Rashid’s place in the team meant Moeen Ali was promoted to open the innings as England were able to use two spinners. For Pakistan, their preparations had been rocked by a back injury to Yasir Shah, who already has over 60 wickets from his 10-match test career.
With the fall of the first wicket former captain, Shoaib Malik joined Mohammad Hafeez and the two settled things far in Pakistan’s favour. Shoaib was playing his first Test for five years and his first First-Class match for eighteen months. The pair put on 168 for the second wicket as Hafeez fell lbw to Ben Stokes when just two short of a hundred. Hafeez was let-off when Ian Bell shelled a chance at second slip with the batsman on just 7. Bell then inexplicably dropped a far easier chance in the penultimate over of the day as England could have had their hosts six wickets down at the close. As it was Pakistan ended the first day on 284-4. Shoaib Malik had reached just his second century of a test career stretching back to August 2001. The highlight of the day belonged to Younis Khan as he passed Javed Miandad as Pakistan’s highest test run scorer.
The second day belonged to Shoaib and Asad Shafiq. They batted, largely untroubled on a benign pitch, for most of it. Shoaib reached an impressive double century just an over before Asad reached his century. Shoaib was beginning to tuck into England’s leg-spinner when his partnership with Asad was finally ended after they’d put on 248. It was the 145th over of the innings yet only the fifth wicket, but now wickets began tumbling as Pakistan chased a position where a declaration was possible. Shoaib’s unbelievable innings was finally ended on 245 when Bell held onto one and when Stokes picked up his fourth victim in Zulfiqar Babar, Misbah called them in at 523-8.
It was a fantastic knock from Shoaib, made all the more impressive when you consider he averaged 16.30 in ten innings against England prior to this match with a highest score of 39. Also there was the fact he’d not played a test match for five years and a first-class game for eighteen months. It wasn’t a classic innings, just an amazing exhibition of concentration and resilience. When it ended he was literally out on his feet as in the end exhaustion got the better of him.
Alistair Cook and his latest opening partner, Moeen Ali, had 21 overs to negotiate and thankfully for the visitors they had few alarms as they took the score to 56-0 before the close of the second day.
The third day seemed to give us an even duller pitch than we’d seen so far. Cook and Moeen took their partnership to triple figures before Imran Khan produced enough pace out of the pitch to find Moeen’s edge. Ian Bell joined his captain and if he was going to end his eighteen innings search for a hundred, and he seemed intent on sticking around and battling it out. Cook, on the other hand, couldn’t have looked more at home and brought up yet another hundred off 180 balls. He was scoring far faster than either of his partners too and he joined Jacques Kallis as the highest scoring visiting batsmen in Asia.
Pakistan’s spinners were unable to get much joy out of the wicket just as England’s hadn’t. Cook’s 150 came up off 282 balls and then the 150 partnership was also reached. But just as they were thinking about a job well done and resting for the night, Bell did what Bell does far too often and inexplicably played a loose shot to point off the impressive Wahab, and was gone for 63. He’d batted for nearly four and a half hours but England were still short of the follow-on target. Mark Wood was brought in as a nightwatchman, which seemed a strange decision as it wasn’t as if the pitch or even the bowlers looked particularly scary for any of England’s middle-order. After flashing one over the slips Wood then chopped the ball onto his stumps and Joe Root had to come in after all. England ended the third day 308 behind with seven wickets in hand with Cook still unbeaten on 168.
The fourth morning brought little cheer for those keen on witnessing wickets. Root was far more fluent and attacking than his captain, but Cook had already prepared such a substantial base he was clearly happy to take a back seat for a while. Root passed fifty and then the hundred partnership came up before Cook reached a brilliant double century, his third in tests. By lunch the follow-on had been negotiated as England reached 400. But any thoughts we all had of seeing yet another Root century, disappeared when Rahat Ali got him to edge to Sarfraz for 85.
Jonny Bairstow came and went but Ben Stokes was much more successful as he reached his half-century off 77 balls. Just before this Cook reached 250 off 496 balls, as the England captain seemed to have all sorts of records available to him. His highest score of 294 at Edgbaston against India in 2011 looked attainable, then there was England’s record individual score, 364 by Len Hutton in 1938.
In the end he mastered neither as a rather weary sweep to backward square leg gave a tinge of anti-climax before the realisation we’d witnessed a second unbelievable display of concentration and tenacity in an era so lacking of either. Cook’s 263 lasted 836 minutes and he’d faced 528 balls. It was the longest time an England batsman had spent at the crease in one test innings.
By the time Cook went, Stokes had fallen to Shoaib. It was the first wicket to fall to spin in the match. Shoaib also took Cook’s wicket giving us the second occasion in test history when a double-centurion took the wicket of another. Quite unbelievably both instances have occurred this year. Buttler hit a quick-fire 23 but again disappointed as England ended the fourth day, 569-8 with a lead of 46.
When the sun rose on day five there was expectation the game would fizzle out for a draw. Much debate was over how long Cook would keep his team batting and whether there was any desire to try and force a result. Would Pakistan score quickly enough to put England back in and cause some havoc?
Adil Rashid and Stuart Broad added just 21 to the overnight score before Rashid (12) fell to Imran who, as it turned out, had taken the first and last wickets of the innings. Broad and Anderson struggled along for another twenty-three minutes before Cook called them in just short of 600. Interestingly enough, the last time England scored 600 in an innings was also the last time Cook passed 250.
So to Pakistan’s second innings and any concerns England fans had of the home side scoring quickly to wrestle back the initiative were blown away in the third over. Younis joined Hafeez in settling things down but then a moment of genius from Stokes saw the latter’s stumps demolished as he attempted a run. The two most experienced home batsmen then set about the task of seeing the game out. They took the team into a lead but they still weren’t safe by any means when Younis played a poor shot to give Rashid his first test wicket. Rashid had become the most expensive debut bowler in the first innings but was rewarded for his persistence. Younis was approaching his half-century and Pakistan needed him to stick around, but there was a definite feeling England had made an important breakthrough.
Six overs later and Rashid struck again. Asad Shafiq followed a wide-ish leg break and despite a review was given out caught behind. Pakistan were now 139-5 and still only 64 in front. Enter Sarfraz Ahmed averaging almost fifty and a good foil for the captain. Misbah reached his half-century but then played a crazy shot trying to hit Moeen down the ground, and was gone. The lead was now 83 and there was time left for England to skittle them out and maybe knock the runs off. What was going through Misbah’s mind is anybody’s guess but there’s little doubt he put his side back under pressure when they needn’t have been.
Wahab then too fell to Moeen for 1 and next over Rashid picked up his third wicket when Zulfiqar edged to first slip where Anderson took a sharp chance one-handed, low down. Sarfraz had scored a smart 27 but Rashid made it four wickets in his next over and the hosts were now teetering on 173-9. Imran Khan came out to bat for his third innings in test cricket and still waiting for his first run. Rashid tempted him to edge to Anderson at slip first ball and he had picked up a five-wicket haul to contrast his first innings performance. It was a fantastic moment for the Yorkshire leg-spinner. Pakistan had been blown away, losing 14-5 in 30 balls after Misbah’s rush of blood.
England were facing their target of 99 and sent out Jos Buttler with Moeen to give the innings some impetus to start with. He lasted five balls before falling lbw to Shoaib and the gamble had failed. When Moeen was out for 11 off Zulfiqar England were 29-2 from 28 balls. Stokes also fell to Shoaib but this brought Bairstow and Root together. Wahab was brought on to replace Zulfiqar and his third ball was banged in short allowing Bairstow to launch him over midwicket for six. Three balls later Bairstow wacked a full toss down the ground for another boundary and England were racing along on 65-3 from 9 overs.
Zulfiqar changed ends and immediately Root top-edged one but inexplicably Sarfraz and the bowler combined to leave the ball to each other and England had a reprieve. Next ball Bairstow charged the bowler and was stumped. When Bell came in it was noticeably darker and Misbah was now moving the field around regularly as the umpires refused numerous attempts for the twelfth man to come on.
To the dismay of everyone watching the two umpires called the game off as England were within touching distance. England fans greeted this with incredulity particularly as the floodlights were on, but the umpires were doing everything by the book. In the end neither captain had much complaint and a riveting match had come to a conclusion. There were times when we were struggling to keep interested or awake, but as it turned out the two sides conspired to produce a thrilling finish.
With the series level and two to play we move onto Dubai on Thursday.