Back in 2010, when England last met Pakistan on these fair shores, the tests were of dubious quality, and eventually of dubious intention. But although England won the series 3-1, they always had that control of the series, thanks, we tend to forget, for a magnificent hundred that saved our bacon at Trent Bridge by…..*
Anyway, he’s not in our test team any more, and by the end of that series Saeed Ajmal had him fidgeting about like a cat on a hot tin roof. But England’s frail batting in that series, and the awesome, at times, nature of the visitors bowling always kept tests on the edge. They won a close battle at The Oval. When we saw another such test at Lord’s, those of us on here who worry that such a frail batting side as England are (with two top order places, at least, and possibly three, up for grabs) could ascend to the top of the pile, placed world test cricket’s travails towards the back for a while. This test has them back, front and centre. In Antigua, India are walking over a mediocre West Indies. Here, we are doing the same in this test to Pakistan.
England have done what good test sides do, of course. They’ve taken their opportunity to bat on a great wicket, piled up a massive score, and then knocked off half the top order in no time, with Woakes, yet again, having a terrific day. That two of the more reliable men, or at least billed as reliables, in Hafeez and Younus are struggling is a real concern for the visitors. They simply have to bowl sides out for manageable totals and hope their batsmen can keep them in clover, but I don’t see this Pakistan team topping 500 in English conditions. I may be wrong, and The Oval might be the surface to do it, but it doesn’t look to be in form enough for me. So when England racked up 589/8 in their first innings, the pressure to score nearly 400 just to force England to make a decision looks daunting. Misbah and Shafiq are going to need to play out of their skins.
England were ruthless. Root eschewed risk early, and took the morning session very steadily as Woakes took advantage of his promotion up the order to remind us how good his batting was when he’s 150 wickets into his test career and faded like Stuart Broad! Bairstow and Stokes played their part, and kept the train on the tracks, while Root expanded his game a little more and got past 200. Then, in something I love seeing from England players and always lamented we didn’t do enough of it, he got past the 200s, the 210s and the 220s and piled on. In my days of watching cricket only Gooch and Cook (twice) have made larger scores for England, and of course, almost forgetting Stokes as well – silly me.
Some little nuggets? His is the third 254 in tests, the others by Bradman at Lord’s in 1930 and Virender Sehwag in Lahore in 2006 (his coming in a Sehwag-esque 247 balls). If he’d made 252, he would have been the first person in tests ever to do so. It’s the 5th double hundred of the year, with England having the top two scores so far. It was two short of the English record at Old Trafford (Ken Barrington) and the third highest individual test innings in Manchester.
Oh, and I must not doubt @norcrosscricket stats ever again (x100)
So while England’s mastery is obvious in this match, and Pakistan’s route to survival will need the intervention of weather in some ways, this feels to someone not wedded as strongly to this England team like a disappointment. I want a scrap. I want a match which is won with fight and tenacity. This is a steamrollering and it doesn’t please me any more. Joe Root is a super player, a brilliant talent, temperament to die for, an all round game that one can only marvel at, but….. I can’t put my finger on it. As with Woakes, who is coming good (and yes, I doubted him as well, of course I did) you feel great for people like this. I really do. But it’s the bigger picture. Azhar Ali appears a fine player in the UAE, but he’s like a fish out of water in this series. Why?
That’s enough for tonight, and please keep the comments coming tomorrow. Somehow it doesn’t still feel right having a Day 2 on a Saturday, but I realise I’m an old fuddy duddy now. Day 3 tomorrow, have your say in the usual place. I’m off to read what the “highly respected Cricket Correspondent” ( (c) Charlie Sale) of the Mail has had to say. It’s sure to be enlightening.
* Eoin Morgan, of course…..