Given the troubled and fractious relationship over many years between England’s and Pakistan’s cricket teams, perhaps the most startling outcome from this Test has been the realisation that they have become a likeable side. The celebration at the end of a match they have thoroughly deserved to win made most onlookers smile, for it signified a team seemingly united and also enjoying their cricket. Although that might have been the most obvious example, there were plenty of others, from Misbah’s century celebration to the adorable reaction of Mohammed Hafeez to the sight of a young Pakistan fan in the stands celebrating his catch to dismiss Alex Hales. Rather obviously, over recent years Pakistan have had something of a PR problem, but under Misbah’s exceptional leadership and example, they have demonstrated themselves to be very welcome tourists.
It does of course help player demeanour when matches are won, and although England swiftly wrapped up the Pakistan second innings in a few minutes this morning, 283 was a big ask in the fourth innings of a match that had already showed declining batting returns. Reaching such a target is quite possible, but it does require a fine batting performance, with few mistakes and bowling opposition that isn’t on top of its game – none of that was the case today. Some were got out, but all too many of them were self-inflicted. Cook certainly got a good ball, but his technique is looking ever so slightly awry again, his head moving over to off and ending up squared up by the bowler much too often. In contrast, Hales and Vince were loose, Root and Ali downright careless, as England went helter-skelter at the target. It wasn’t until Bairstow was joined by Woakes that a calmer mindset was brought to proceedings, and although the two of them battled hard against some exceptional bowling from Wahad Riaz in particular, much of the damage was already done – unless they were to pull off something magical, an end was always going to be open the moment the partnership was broken. So it proved, from the moment Bairstow to his utter horror managed to miss a long hop to the end of the match was a mere five overs. The final nail in the coffin came with the loss of Chris Woakes, who batted longer in the game than any other England player, for 58 runs and once out to go with his eleven wickets. Seldom has an England player in recent times been more unlucky to finish on the losing side.
Yasir Shah’s ten wickets in the match will receive the plaudits, but the seam bowling today should give England pause that they are going to be up against an attack with no weak links. As was suspected before the start of the series, the strength of the two sides is in the bowling, albeit Pakistan have a spinner on a different level, and both batting line ups look brittle. For England the return of Anderson and Stokes will improve the side, with Finn and presumably Ball the likely ones to make way. That would certainly improve the batting in the middle order, but that’s not the area where England look vulnerable. Vince doesn’t at this stage look likely to contribute more than a few breezy runs, while Hales at the top still doesn’t exude reliability.
From a series perspective, Pakistan’s win is probably the best thing that could have happened; England now have to show they are capable of more than beating up weakened opposition. But if nothing else, three more Tests as enjoyable as this one certainly won’t harm interest in the game. These are two fairly well matched sides, both flawed, both capable of brilliance. Pakistan won this Test rather than England losing it, because when it came down to it, their key players stepped up and delivered to a greater extent than England’s did. That may not be the same next time, but for now they can reflect on a fine performance, that had the added side effect of winning over some hearts and minds. Not a bad day’s work.