Why the real test for Pakistan starts now
In an era of excessively friendly home pitches that make it almost impossible for even the most accomplished touring side, it was certainly refreshing to see Pakistan take a 1-0 lead over England after the win at Lord’s. For the first time in 20 years, Pakistan won a Test match at Lord’s and just like it was inspired by a leg-spinner in 1996, it was another leggie that played a vital role in their victory.
In 1996, it was Mushtaq Ahmed with some assistance from Waqar Younis helped Pakistan to a 164-run win over England. In 2016, it was Yasir Shah’s 10-wicket haul that gave the visitors a 75-run victory. And while the former went on to claim the Man of the Series award in the 1996 series after picking up 17 wickets and helping Pakistan to a 2-0 win in the three-match series, only time will tell if Pakistan’s current leggie can replicate the feats of a former legend.
Irrespective of the impressiveness of the victory in the first Test, Pakistan shouldn’t count their chickens before they hatch. After all, there have been plenty of cautionary tales of teams winning the first Test before going on to lose the series. For a couple of reasons, including the return of a couple of key players, the real test for Pakistan starts now.
Return of Anderson and Stokes will pose a new threat
While there can be little doubt that it was the willow not the leather that cost England the first Test, only a fool would argue that England’s bowlers were penetrating. While Chris Woakes had a memorable match, none of the other fast bowlers were anywhere near the same level and the less said about Moeen Ali’s performance, the better.
Another day and another Test brings the promise of a better return. Especially with both James Anderson and Ben Stokes likely to return to the XI. Both players played in the last county match for their respective counties and proved their fitness to ensure a swift return to the side. With three wickets each in their last game, both won’t be shy of match practice.
The return of the country’s all-time leading wicket-taker might undeniably improve any side, it is not just the experience that Anderson brings but the difference he makes. A few days shy of his 34th birthday, Anderson doesn’t have age on his side but what he does have in spades is the ability to make a difference and have an impact with the new cherry.
If there was one piece of the jigsaw that was missing from England’s bowling puzzle it was the lack of penetration with the new ball. Jake Ball, playing in his first Test might have been forgiven for having some nerves, but when that coupled with that Stuart Broad having one of his quiet days and Steven Finn showing that he isn’t the finished product yet, it was all on Woakes to make the difference.
And while he did make a difference, he would have been much more effective in reducing the visitors’ total if he had any support at all. And that is what Anderson brings, a steady consistency and ability to take crucial wickets while the return of Stokes means England will now have a bowler capable of reverse swinging the ball at around 90 mph.
Remember India in 2014
It is not just the return of two world-class performers that should worry Pakistan. It is also the weight of history and the cautionary tale that their neighbours and arch-rivals provide. After all, the last time a team from the sub-continent won at Lord’s for the first time in two decades or more, they went on to lose the series 1-3.
In July 2014, India would have been forgiven for arriving at the wrong venue, such was the lush green nature of the pitch. Despite the obvious disadvantage to begin with, India, thanks to a century from Ajinkya Rahane, fifties from Murali Vijay and Ravindra Jadeja and a magical spell of fast bowling by Ishant Sharma.
After such an impressive start to the series, India’s tour blew up in epic proportions as they succumbed to a 266-run defeat and two innings losses to end the series soundly beaten. So, if that is anything to go by, it is that a win at Lord’s is nothing to go overboard with.
And that is exemplified even more by the hosts’ recent form at Lord’s. In the last three years, England have won just two of the seven Tests and are yet to beat a team from the subcontinent at Lord’s. Even Sri Lanka, who aren’t the team they were before, are unbeaten at the mecca of cricket for the last 25 years and have drawn their last two visits to the stadium.
Given England’s poor record at the venue, it isn’t surprising that they lost. But what would be surprising is if they continued to perform so poorly in the remaining Tests. After all, not only will they have their all-time leading Test wicket-taker but also one of the finest all-rounders in the longest format of the game and Pakistan can’t really depend on their leg spinner to take 10 wickets in every match for the rest of the series, especially with him having an injury scare in the nets.
The fact that despite not having their best bowler, England’s seamers took double the amount of wickets as Pakistan’s trio of left-arm pacers shows that it was a superlative individual performance from Yasir Shah that got them the win. And with England now aware of the threat posed by the spinners, none of the remaining three pitches are likely to be in favour of spinners.
So if it is a battle of just the fast bowlers, based on the evidence of the first Test and the addition of Anderson and Stokes, England are going to win hands down. And that certainly doesn’t bode well for Pakistan, who will be looking to build on their 1-0 series lead. For that to happen, their fast bowlers, including Mohammad Amir, who only picked up three wickets in the match, will need step up and that is why the real test for Pakistan starts now.