The heist that England pulled off at Rawalpindi after a bold declaration is one of a kind and will be talked about for a long time to come.
To the puritans of the game, Test cricket is the real deal. Every now and then, in the middle of the T20 razmataaz that has overshadowed the longest format, we get to see a thrilling duel that reinforces our belief in Test cricket.
On December 5 at Rawalpindi, England sealed a Test match that looked all set for a draw after the first two innings.
From the very first day of the test, England walked out with a lethal intent that has come to be known as Bazball after England coach Brendon McCullum who is fondly known as Baz. The Bazball is his brand of cricket – the dashing, forceful display of batting that he exhibited throughout his career across formats.
It didn’t come as a surprise when McCullum put Australian bowlers to sword scoring the fastest 54-ball Test hundred, making his swansong unforgettable. That is the intent and attitude that he has infused in this English side.
Before the start of the series, the England coach made his intent very clear saying the side would continue with the mantra of attacking cricket.
“We’ll be pushing for results. If we get outplayed, that is okay,” McCullum pronounced. With an enterprising Ben Stokes leading an aggressive, immensely talented side, McCullum wasn’t off the mark.
Even before the start of the series, stokes had won hearts after he proclaimed that he would donate his entire match fee of the series to the flood relief cause in Pakistan. And, as if that wasn’t enough, his bold declaration on Day 4 won him more hearts.
Winning the toss, England elected to bat on a placid batting track but when Crawley and Duckett walked out to open the innings, they made it abundantly clear in the very first hour of the play that England were intent upon forcing a result on a dead track that looked like a bowlers’ graveyard. So brutal was the opening onslaught that was taken forward by the English middle-order that it was hard to believe that we were watching Test cricket and not a T20 burst. But all the while, the spectators were treated to pure cricketing shots. England plundered a mammoth 506 runs on Day 1 with four batsmen – Crawley, Duckett, Pope and Brooks – blasting hundreds. Both the number of runs on the first day of the Test and four batsmen scoring a hundred is the new record. This even while the Stumps were called fifteen overs short of the scheduled close of play due to poor light. We might have been treated to more fireworks for another hour or so if the light had permitted the play.
In response, Pakistani openers exercised great caution while also playing their strokes. The opening stand of 225 runs meant Pakistan were capable enough to effect a draw. Openers Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haque scored typically sedate Test hundreds which was followed by another hundred by Skipper Babar Azam, Pakistan getting all out for 579 on Day 4. The Test looked every bit a draw.
But England captain Ben Stokes, and of course others around him as well, had different plans.
In the second innings, England exhibited more aggression and posted 264/7 in less than 36 overs and, surprisingly, declared the innings, setting Pakistan an achievable target of 343. It was a bold declaration, given the placid nature of the wicket and a formidable Pakistani batting lineup that had proved itself in the first innings in the face of a massive England total.
Led by the old wily fox James Anderson and the inexperienced Ollie Robinson, who took four wickets apiece, England managed to get Pakistan out for 268 runs registering a well-deserved 74-run win.
The timing of England’s declaration that could have backfired is what infused a lease of life in a dead Test and created a result. Decisions like these and the intent with which England batted is what Test cricket needs.
In the final moments of the match when England were a whisker away from a glorious win, the field placing – all the fielders encircling the batsman – underscored what Test cricket is all about. The moment was reminiscent of the days of yore when filed placements such as these were witnessed more often. England pulled off a heist that it duly deserved after the brand of cricket it displayed. As accolades keep pouring in, this win by England and the way they forced a result will be talked about for a long time to come. On any given day, a Rawalpindi thriller is always welcome rather than a drab Test borne of defensive tactics and a lack of intent. Give it up for Ben Stokes and Co.!