Let no one say England aren’t trying to entertain. On a pitch that demanded a draw from the start, Ben Stokes’ side did their best to transcend the conditions – first with the bat, after another blitzkrieg from Harry Brook, then with the ball, then that Ollie Robinson and Ben Stokes hit Pakistan’s best order with a barrage of bouncers.
In between, a statement summed up what Stokes and Brendon McCullum are. He arrived at tea, placing Pakistan 343 in four sessions, around 100 overs, and provoked some on social media to ask if the England think tank had lost their minds.
On the contrary: they are true to their word. Stokes has always said he has no interest in draws. He always said he was willing to lose for a chance to win. It’s a philosophy to which Shane Warne has dedicated his career. He would have loved that.
Ben Stokes made a bold claim as England pushed for victory in the first Test against Pakistan
Stokes’ side took two wickets before the end of the game after placing their hosts 343 to win
Harry Brook previously narrowly missed the fastest goal of the century in England history
At the stumps on the fourth night, Pakistan had reached 80 for two from 20 overs, with Babar Azam back in the clubhouse and Azhar Ali having retired injured after a finger poke from Robinson.
This Rawalpindi surface hardly deserves a positive result, but it will be thanks to England if they get one. And their lack of orthodoxy was again evident as Pakistan went in pursuit of victory.
Rather than throw the new ball and give it to Jimmy Anderson, they dug it in, with Robinson and Stokes doing the heavy lifting.
One theory was that they were trying to manhandle one side of the ball and speed up when it could start to reverse. Another was that they had seen how batters throughout the game had only tangled against the short ball. It was a classic of Stokes/McCullum psychology.
Ollie Robinson, alongside Stokes, has been tasked with bowling the new ball for England
And, guess what – it worked. Pakistan ran to 20, before Abdullah Shafique edged Robinson into the hands of Brook at the deep back square. Two bullets later, Robinson cracked Azhar Ali on his right index finger, forcing him to retire injured.
Babar Azam came out for another rousing reception. Soon, however, he, too, was on his way home, unable to escape a short Stokes that he fended off to Ollie Pope. England were on the run.
Imam-ul-Haq and Saud Shakeel fought back against the spinners, but England might have had a third wicket shortly before the close when Shakeel cut Jack Leach straight to the short-legged Keaton Jennings underfield. The opportunity presented itself immediately. We could be in a doomsday thriller.
Imam-ul-Haq again impressed with the bat and reached the end of the game
Sub-champion Keaton Jennings dropped a good short-leg chance to fire Saud Shakeel
Earlier, the England batters had batted 264 for seven in just 35.5 overs, scoring even faster than they did in their astonishing first innings 657.
Ben Duckett dropped the first ball, and Pope followed cheaply on the hook, but Zak Crawley purred to another fast fifty, from 47 balls, and Joe Root was at his mischievous best, at one point, taking guard as a southpaw for two balls against Zahid Mahmood’s Leg Turn.
It didn’t bother him from a distance that he was nearly caught on second by Naseem Shah, who thought he was at cover point but went square-legged when Root traded.
Root eventually fell for 73 from 69, after dominating a rare conventional sweep, but by then his Yorkshire pal Brook was well in his stride, bringing in a 50 from 42 balls to accompany his first hundred innings. A third-ball duck for Stokes, aiming for something deadly over the side, barely registered.
Joe Root also shone for England with the bat and spent some time batting left-handed
Stokes’ side will go on to win tomorrow but all three match results are still possible
For the second time in the match, Brook threatened Gilbert Jessop’s 120-year-old England record for the fastest Test century, from 76 balls, and would surely have gotten there if the declaration had not been imminent . On the 87th he missed an uprising at Naseem Shah – his 65th ball – and the tea was taken, triggering the declaration.
The first part of the day had revolved around Will Jacks’ career-best numbers in any format – six for 161 – as Pakistan extended their night of 499 for seven in 579, mainly thanks to the half-century of Agha Salman.
It was the calm before the various storms.