A new season. A new selector. A new era for English cricket.
Or at least that’s what the ECB must have been hoping for after a disastrous winter. In truth, the team sheet from England’s head selector was very similar to the last one prepared by his predecessor in New Zealand. Replacing Vince with Jos Buttler was the only unenforced change, with Buttler playing as a specialist batsman at number 7 and everyone else (bar Stokes) moving up a spot. Jack Leach was also ruled out of the team due to injury, and so was replaced by fellow Somerset spinner Dom Bess. For Pakistan, Hasan Ali was preferred over Rahat Ali. This decision was no doubt aided by Rahat Ali’s inability to take any wickets in the Test against Ireland a couple of weeks ago.
Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat. What followed was very reminiscent of England’s previous era. Of their previous twenty or so ‘new eras’, if I’m being honest. It started with Stoneman being bowled through the gate by Abbas, which is never a good look from an opener. Root and Malan both edged Hasan Ali to the keeper, and England were 43/3. Cook and Bairstow regrouped and managed to survive until Lunch, but England were facing a humiliating start to the summer.
The partnership looked solid after the interval, until Bairstow played inside a delivery from Faheem Ashraf and was bowled. This brought Stokes to the crease, and a second counterattack from England. Together with Cook, he put on a 49-run stand which was ended by Amir bowling Cook. This left England at 149/5. Not a great position, but with the remaining 6 batsmen including two allrounders, a specialist batsman in Jos Buttler and a Test centurion it was hardly the worst possible position for England.
Whilst England’s tail looked very strong on paper, on a cricket pitch they looked abjectly poor. Stokes, Buttler, Bess and Broad fell in quick succession and, within 11 overs, Pakistan had bowled the England tail out. Considering that England had won the toss and chose to bat, 184 was an abysmal total.
It looked a little promising for England at the start of Pakistan’s innings, with Broad trapping Imam-ul-Haq LBW after a successful DRS review. Unfortunately for the hosts, that was almost the only bright spot for them in the evening session. Anderson and Broad seemed to be a bit fuller and straighter than normal, but the Pakistani batsmen were resolute and seemed fairly comfortable facing the English attack. The only exception was an edge by Sohail from Mark Wood’s bowling which Ben Stokes dropped at third slip. Otherwise, Sohail and Azhar Ali made steady progress to the end of play leaving Pakistan on 50/1 and just 134 runs behind England.
Cook was England’s top scorer with 70 runs. As essentially the only member of the England team who did anything close to their job, he certainly deserves praise. Instead, I would guess the press’ attention will be aimed towards Joe Root. He chose to bat first in what many would say were bowling conditions (never mind that this was presumably a team decision involving the coaches and senior players), and he got out for just 4 runs (ignoring that he averages 50.12 as captain).
Perhaps the most worrying thing for England and their supporters is that this doesn’t appear to be a particularly strong Pakistan team. Mohammad Amir, who was heavily hyped in the lead up to this series, was wayward and slow. Their batting lineup seems fragile to say the least. Pakistan are currently 7th in the ICC Test rankings, and you can see why. This is a side which England should be able to absolutely dominate at home. That they can’t is damning. This series could well be the first one Pakistan have won in England since 1996.
As always, comments welcome below.