Thursday, 18 August 2016

Selected thoughts: England vs Pakistan

Thursday, 18 August 2016
This blog has gone somewhat quiet recently: not due to a lack of interest, merely a lack of time. As I have obviously missed the boat somewhat for lengthier reviews of the test series, here are some (slightly) shorter thoughts from the past three matches.

The comeback. After losing a hard-fought battle at Lord's, falling victim to the spin of Yasir Shah, it all went much better when the second test began at Old Trafford. For starters, England won the toss and batted - taking out the option of facing Yasir Shah in the fourth innings again. Once Alastair Cook was joined at the crease by Joe Root with the score on 25/1, England never looked back. When Cook departed, it was 210/2. When Root departed for 254, England were well past 500, with a pair of 58s from Woakes and Bairstow also aiding the cause. Yasir Shah, so devastating at Lord's, looked almost ordinary. 589 played 198 after both sides had batted, and despite not choosing to enforce the follow on - Cook and Root instead piling on the misery again - it was then fairly straightforward for England. The bowlers did the rest, and victory was won by 330 runs.

The triumph. The series was finely poised at 1-1, both teams still having everything to play for. Sohail Khan came in for Pakistan, having managed one wicket in his previous two test matches - the first in 2009, the last in 2011. His moment had come though, and he made the wickets tumble - dismissing much of England's middle order for his first five wicket haul. England's batsmen could make starts - Ballance (70) and Moeen (63) the top scorers - but they couldn't build an imposing total, with England all out for 297. Pakistan could though, hitting that 400 mark exactly, led by 139 from Azhar Ali and 82 from Sami Aslam, making his maiden test fifty aged just 20.

Act one was complete. But act two brought a twist. First of all, a rare century stand for the opening partnership, the first shared between Cook and Hales at the top. Batsmen made starts again, but this time more solid starts than before. It was enough for Bairstow and Moeen to exploit when they got their moment - Bairstow with 83, and Moeen on the attack with 86* from 96 balls. England could declare on 445/6, setting a target of 343 and somehow finding themselves in pole position to take the match. And though the breakthrough was slow to come at first, England then went rampant; including a spell of four wickets for one run inside four overs. A fantastic comeback saw England win by 141 runs, taking the series lead to boot.

The finale. England needed to avoid defeat to win the series, Pakistan needed victory to retain the series trophy. All to play for. But familiar problems arose for England. That fragile top order proved fragile again, slipping to 110/5 before Bairstow (55), Moeen (108), and Woakes (45) were there to bail England out to 328. Sohail Khan was there to pick up another five wicket haul, Wahab Riaz returning as well to take three.

Younis Khan had been having a difficult series until this point. Undeniably a brilliant batsman, but things hadn't been going quite right. Catches had gone down when in the field, and when holding the bat he was skittish, jumping around the crease, and not looking like a man of 100 tests and over 9000 test runs. But at The Oval, the real Younis Khan returned. An innings of 218 put the knife into England's hopes, racing along too with a strike rate of 70. Asad Shafiq reached the three figures before him, a comeback of his own after a pair in the previous test. Pakistan had made 542; England had been batted out of the game.

Yasir Shah might have gone quiet for the previous two tests, but he returned for the finale; five wickets to spin England out again. Wahab Riaz was there too, something of a flamethrower in human form, dealing the damage despite having to be taken out of the attack for running on the pitch. Bairstow was England's resistance, fighting as he so often has this summer, until Wahab got his man. England passed Pakistan's score, but a target of 40 was chased down with ease. The series was level once again.

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