The same old story for Pakistan cricket unfolds at Old Trafford
Mohammad Amir ran in to take the last wicket and drive Pakistan to victory. Yasir Shah seemed unplayable and Misbah-ul-Haq seemed invincible (the second innings blunder was, of course, an aberration). Amir, Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali swung the ball both ways, almost ruminating Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Imran Khan’s era.
A victory by 75 runs for boys from a war-torn land, with immense geopolitical issues, on a ground where they faced massive criticism and controversy half-a-decade back meant so much. Test cricket was here to stay, they said. And the push-up celebration right in front of the grandstand at Lord’s seemed just appropriate, this was a sinewed team which was only going to get stronger!
England come back fighting
Come Manchester, it seemed like the Pakistani outfit which played at Lord’s was keen on proving that performance as a fitting example for the word ‘aberration’. The bowlers who swung it both ways, seemed lackadaisical. Although, Amir did trouble both Alistair Cook and Alex Hales (batsmen he eventually dismissed too), but none of the other bowlers seemed to do much.
Yasir who seemed unplayable at Lord’s was so easy to read at Manchester and ended the game with drastic figures of 1-264. Suddenly you could see catches going down, shoulders drooping and you knew where this story was headed. The result, a massive defeat by 330 runs!
England, on the other hand, came out like a hurt tiger would have, with a point-or-two to prove. They were focussed, rejuvenated with James Anderson’s and Ben Stokes’ inclusion and all set to go. But, England’s hopes were propelled by a long-due innings from their wunderkind Joe Root, who seems to only go from strength to strength everytime he comes out to bat. 254 runs in the first innings coupled with a balanced century from Cook, meant England had a mammoth total of 589 on board, and that Pakistan would play catch-up throughout.
Which is exactly what happened, Mohammad Hafeez for all his might only seemed to be that engine which starts like a beast only to fizzle out like a terrified mole. Scores of 18 and 42 when chasing scores in excess of 500 doesn’t only show poor form, it also shows his inability to convert starts into big scores. How dearly does Pakistan want that from their openers?
Azhar Ali and Younis khan, meanwhile seemed to pen their own struggle stories, for someone with over 9,000 Test runs, Younis galloped inside the crease against swinging deliveries like a 10-year-old would, afraid of the hard ball while Azhar appeared only as a guest on a TV Show, adding little value to the score, scoring 1 and 8 in both the innings respectively.
Tough times ahead for Pakistan
Pakistan have worries galore, and a week before they play the next game at Birmingham, they will need to answer a lot of questions. England, on the other hand, seem to have restored the status-quo, and save for another injury to Stokes (this time in his calf) they seem a well-oiled unit. Chris Woakes has been in more ways than one another wunderkind for England, performing in all three departments of the game, he is surely a captain’s delight.
With a fit Andersons returning to England’s bowling line-up, it will only get better from here. While Stokes’ injury is worrisome, given that he has just recovered from one and that he might not be available for the entire summer, England have ticked most of the other boxes.
When Pakistan reach Birmingham to play the third Test, they will reach there with an added baggage of self-doubt and questions, per head. Their bowling which seemed like an impregnable suit, now suddenly shows signs demanding repair, their batting which seemed to do okay, suddenly seems in need of instant recalibration.
So, what ahead for Pakistan? In a way, a week’s time off should help Pakistan regroup and focus on the next game, but that’s easier said than done. After having lost by a colossal margin of 330 runs, and exposed in all areas of play, it will take all the fuel in their bellies to make a comeback at Birmingham.
The third Test promises to be an exciting contest between sides which have, in a matter of a couple of weeks, seen the crescendoes and the troughs. England will have all the momentum and all the support, and Pakistan will face a stiffer peak to climb.
The 4 match Investec Test-Series stands leveled at 1-1. Come Birmingham, both the teams would want their side of the standings to increase by one. Pakistan would want to repeat the push-ups celebration at Birmingham, while England would, with all their might, play to restore the chuffed feeling in the squad. The third test promises to be a cracker of a game, with hopefully, great sport at display.