Sunday, 18 October 2015

A burst of life

Sunday, 18 October 2015
Test cricket can, at times, be rather ridiculous. Suddenly, as the sun set in Abu Dhabi, England were on the charge, seeking a dramatic win almost out of nowhere. Adil Rashid had become a star with a five wicket haul in his first game, after in the first innings recording the worst bowling figures by a debutant. England were chasing down a total of 99 runs, their opponent not overs, but the light and the time. Four days of cricket petering out into a draw, and suddenly a finish that left all England supporters wishing there had just been that little bit more.

Really, it hadn't been a great match up until those final sessions. It's not taking anything away from the performances of the players, it's just that it was hard to play any thrilling cricket on a surface like that. There were some brilliant individual performances, innings of patience and endurance from Shoaib Malik (245) and Alastair Cook (263), bedrocks of two giant team scores. The bowlers did all they could, but there was very little they could really do. Spinners bowled and bowled with so little reward - Zulfiqar Babar bowling 72 overs in England's first innings for just one wicket, coming in his 69th; while Malik was the first spinner to take a wicket in the match, in the 185th over of England's innings. 

But on the fifth day, the pitch had started to spin. Anderson took two wickets in the third over of Pakistan's second innings, and then there was an outside chance that England could snatch victory. They had got themselves into the game the only way they could: grind out another huge score with the bat to take the lead, and then take a couple of early wickets to put the pressure on the opposition. Hafeez was run out, taking a single to Ben Stokes. And then Adil Rashid took his first test wicket, and they kept coming after that. He was getting drift in the air, and turn on the pitch. His final three wickets were almost carbon copies: edges to James Anderson at first slip, the first of the three an excellent low, one-handed take. Moeen Ali was taking wickets at the other end too, and perhaps the most important - the captain Misbah, bowled when foolishly trying to hit him down the ground. England's spin twins were doing their job, bowling out the opposition on a fifth day pitch.

It's hard to describe just how delighted I am for Adil Rashid. I've often been disappointed by the way England have handled him, from his first steps around the set-up to even this year. Often he went on tours as part of a learning experience, not expected to play, when he would perhaps have been better served just playing somewhere, learning his game by bowling and bowling. There was this year in the Caribbean, when he should have played whilst Moeen Ali was struggling for fitness, just not trusted by coach or captain. Things have changed with Trevor Bayliss, someone who has been an advocate of Rashid straight away. And Cook, too, made a statement with his actions - Rashid was brought on ahead of Moeen Ali, a show of confidence and faith in Rashid that he seemed to lack before. Rashid has improved as well: where before his mentality has often been a concern, in this match he showed a lot of character to come back with such results after having a horrible first outing. So often he's been teetering on the edge of the England team, not quite convincing enough to stake a full claim, but now he has shown he can really compete at this level. 

England had 99 runs to chase in around twenty overs, but with the light the issue most pressing. The batting order was reshuffled, in coming Jos Buttler to open with Moeen Ali, Root up to three, Stokes up to four. The pinch hitters though couldn't quite come off. Misbah made the right move of opening with spin - taking all the pace off the ball and making it difficult to get it away to the boundary. With no fielding restrictions, the boundaries could be covered with ease; only those perfectly timed and perfectly placed could make it there. Despite 33* from Joe Root, and a partnership with Jonny Bairstow that included a 17-run over off Wahab Riaz and a lot of very hard running, England just couldn't quite get there in time. 

A draw felt frustrating, an end with an if only. But after Pakistan racked up 500 in their first innings, it would have been the best result I could have hoped for. After England responded with their own total, it was the only result I could have seen coming. And at the start of the match, it was a result I would certainly have been happy with. They might not have snatched that win in the end, but to get themselves in with that chance was an achievement in itself. The next match rolls around quickly, starting on Thursday in Dubai. England can go with their heads held high. 

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