Despite being 12 for three on day two after Pakistan’s first innings of 326, despite being 117 for five in pursuit of a target of 277, England have won the first Test of this three-match series by three wickets.
The unlikeliness of this victory goes beyond the in-match situations that, for most of the first three days, Pakistan bossed. Their attack, aided by the surface, should have had enough for the 10 wickets needed, especially against a line-up one batsman short and plenty more out of nick. This is England’s 10th highest successful chase, and second-highest achieved at Emirates Old Trafford and up there with their most outlandish.
That it was Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes who marshalled this come-from-behind win with a daring partnership of 139 for the sixth wicket gives this third Test win in a row an extra edge. Woakes would seal victory with an unbeaten 84, his fifth half-century, to go with his four wickets earlier in the match, all of them big scalps.
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It was a case of practising what the allrounder preached the night before. Of being “proactive” knowing the surface was going to have a ball “with your name on it”. The application was all the more impressive from a player who must have felt “Dukes” was his middle name considering his recent run of form.
His last three innings coming into this Test had reaped one run and two ducks. In 19 knocks since his maiden Test hundred against India in August 2018, he’d only reached double figures five times. Arguably the most talented batsman Warwickshire have produced since a certain Ian Bell was now thoroughly underwhelming. But when he struck an on drive down the ground for four that brought England within six of the opening win – one he would confirm with a skew through a vacant third slip – it all made sense again.
Such a hand when he has taken his 16 wickets at 15.8 this summer underlines his value going forward for this side. And it is perhaps the highest compliment to his worth that his form is getting people to ask somewhat legitimate questions about James Anderson’s future.
For Buttler, this was about more than just the matter at hand. He came into Saturday off the back of news that his father had been admitted into hospital. While Buttler senior – Johnny – is said to be in better health now, Jos would not have known of the improvement as he set about his momentum-jolting innings of 75.
In the context of this match, he had much to make up for. A poor time behind the stumps had looked to have cost England and fanned the fire fuelling the push for his axing from the Test XI. Whatever white ball credit he has, the average of 31 against the red one coupled with the clumsy glove work has not left him short of detractors.
Yes, maybe Ben Foakes and Jonny Bairstow would have taken one of the two chances to dismiss Shan Masood on 45 before the opener eventually finished his knock 111 runs later. Many will continue to argue that both, Foakes in particular, are superior keepers – and they would not be wrong to do so. By CricViz’s measure, Buttler’s keeping across the match cost England 84 runs.
But would Foakes or Bairstow have played this innings? Not simply 75 from 101 deliveries, but come in on106 for four, and hit boundaries regularly and cleanly to put Pakistan off their plans? Would they, with 32 still to get and the tension mounting, have not only the ability but conviction to strike a six cleanly over midwicket to release that pressure when getting it wrong could have meant the end for England and, perhaps, their own Test careers? Again, maybe. But almost certainly not.
Neither could have played Shah as confidently as he did, sweeping and reverse sweeping out of the rough, which was crucial to ensuring Pakistan’s main last day threat “only” finished with four for 99 from his 30 overs. Remarkably, the leg spinner only bowled two maidens in that, and none of them while Buttler and Woakes were together.
Yasir had started his work earlier on with the bat. The two wickets England needed this morning to bowl Pakistan out arrived in the first 16 balls of the day. The bad news was the 32 runs – 21 of them from Yasir, four of them boundaries including a cowboy hoik of Stuart Broad over midwicket. Though Broad would get him to edge behind in that same over, this was merely the start of what was to be a big day for the leg spinner, especially with a 276 lead behind him.
By the time he would get the ball in his hand to bowl the 14th over with England on 31, the quicks had helped him out. A patient Mohammad Abbas eventually trapped Rory Burns from around the wicket for just 10.
That was all there was through to lunch, and there was reason for England to think that, at 55 for one, Dom Sibley (26 not out) and Joe Root (18*) set, the 222 runs left were eminently gettable provided a bit of luck went their way. And, of course, provided England got out of their knack of starting the post-lunch session like it was a post-session session.
They did that to a point. Both right-handers showed patience, Sibley even over-turning a surprising caught at first slip dismissal from Yasir’s fifth delivery after the break. That, though, would eventually be how he fell, though through thrashing a full delivery rather than pressing forward to it. It was at odds with most of his work to that point: leaving – of course – and using his feet to kick deliveries landing in the dirt outside his leg stump. But patient men get bored and, with that, Yasir were on the board in the fourth innings.
Just 16 balls later, Root (42) was gone, too. Naseem Shah’s slightly wider angle on the crease coaxing the England captain to play and edging to Babar Azam at first slip. The kind of dismissal where credit belongs solely to the bowler. England were now three down and 181 off their target, with two new batsmen at the crease on a pitch with enough uncertainty to reward a bowler’s patience rather than a batsman’s.
Of course, when one of those is Ben Stokes, there is reason to believe. England went to bed on Friday dreaming of 2019 and the Year of Stokes. And it was hard not to think back to the remarkable shots of the World Cup Final and Ashes Test at Headingley when he reverse-swept Yasir out of the rough on the left-hander’s off stump. But belief only gets you so far. And up against a rising green tide, even the Cumbrian miracle man had to succumb to a moment of opposition genius when Yasir got a googly to bounce out of that same rough and snick a bit of glove through to Mohammad Rizwan who gathered at the second attempt. The outrageous manner of the dismissal was too much for the umpire to acknowledge, with a review needed to see off the allrounder officially.
Perhaps more outrageous was the bounce Shaheen Afridi extracted from around the wicket to Ollie Pope: rearing up at the neck having pitched close to the toes of Pope. As the catch nestled into Shadab Khan’s hands at point for 117 for five, that felt like the game.
That sensation did not last long. Pakistan fans will tell you it never does. Fuelling their pessimism was the impetus of Buttler and Woakes, combining for 50 runs in just 49 balls through to tea to leave just 110 left.
Their work together continued into the evening, albeit with a degree more concern. Woakes continued to hit through the off side, even when Naseem dug in short and looked to cramp him for room. His half-century arrived in 59 balls with a classical extra-cover drive. Buttler’s had come moments earlier from 55 with one fewer than Woakes’ eight fours, which says all you need to know about the unlikely aggressor of this duo.
The century stand, just the seventh England have managed in the fourth innings of a Test, was greeted with a hint of acknowledgement between the two. Coming as it did from 123 deliveries meant also that, with 60 runs left, Pakistan were unlikely to be able to make much use of the new ball which was still 14.3 overs away. By the time it arrived, there were just 13 needed.
The need for a harder ball was highlighted when, with 49 runs to go, Woakes thumbed a delivery from Yasir that dropped just short of Babar Azam at second slip. With 43 remaining, a Buttler waft amid a tough over from the same bowler was sent up for a review by captain Azhar Ali but was returned as not out.
What desperation there might have been then was upped after Woakes padded when trying to paddle around the corner. The impact outside off stump was a marginal call, but the review of the original not out decision showed the ball was missing leg. And with that, all three Pakistan reviews had been burnt.
England would use one next, albeit in vain. Buttler’s first failed reverse sweep proved terminal after he was given out LBW with no bat used. Yasir’s fourth would then come with the wicket of Broad, promoted up the order to eight and, with a few sweeps, getting the ask down to four. Fittingly, it would be Woakes to see the team over the line.
Quite how Pakistan come back from this remains to be seen, with a quick turnaround before the second Test at the Ageas Bowl which begins on Thursday. After bossing most of the 12 sessions, they will wonder how England, ultimately, stole this at a canter.