As the yellow sun set on a dizzying second day in Multan, it looked like England had not only bolstered their chances of securing a famous victory on their first visit to Pakistan in 17 years, but had also learned a bit more about herself. the path.
Much like the proverbial wet Wednesday in Stoke, many had wondered how this collection of instinctive shooters would fare when the ball has the advantage at bat. Pakistan were clearly among the doubters, responding to England’s sacking of Rawalpindi by ordering a slow turning surface 300 miles to the south and packing their attack with spinners.
But once the half-centuries secured for Ben Duckett (79th) and Harry Brook (74th not) completed three sessions of domination for the tourists, the question was closer to having an answer. England hit 202 for five from 49 overs in their second innings, 281 points clear, and had the comfort of knowing it would take the game’s highest total to stop them going 2-0 up with one to play.
Even the ongoing fairy tale of Abrar Ahmed’s debut couldn’t stop their march as Pakistan’s mystery new man fought his way to three more wickets. to make it a memorable 10 for the match. Instead, the lasting image was likely of Brook swinging at leg spinner Zahid Mahmood late in the day and somehow driving a ball that kicked the outside leg through a blanket extra for four.
Perhaps that’s a little unfair to the bowlers who helped bend the script to England’s will, turning Pakistan overnight from 107 for two to 202 all out and a precious 79 run lead. Jack Leach claimed four for 98, including his 100th Test wicket, while Ollie Robinson lit the fuse on that remarkable bang when a reverse swing stopper knocked down Babar Azam at first thing.
“A hundred Test wickets is more than I thought I could achieve,” said Leach, the milestone of his 31st appearance. “I have to remember that. I love playing for England at the moment – the most I’ve ever loved. And that’s because it’s all about the team, not me. It’s a special feeling.
It’s credit to Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum that Leach thrives on this approach, while the captain and head coach will also be pleased that their message of positivity with the bat isn’t mistaken for recklessness. After the first round of 281 races, England fell back to four races and although there were stumbles – notably Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope unnecessarily exhausted – two relative newcomers to Duckett and Brook delivered excellent controlled shots.
It remains to be seen if Pakistan can replicate that in their chase, with the hosts having gone completely astray after Robinson’s second delivery of the game exploded past Babar’s drive and lit up the zing bails on a foggy morning. Tongue out and arms outstretched in celebration, Robinson had once again shown his skills with the older ball, it’s his sixth wicket in the series and a fifth after the 30-over mark.
Robinson’s five-over spell seemed to have sucked the ambition of Babar’s teammates instantly, their relative cruise to 142 four-and-over runs suddenly stopped in its tracks as a collective state of anxiety descended. That said, Stokes deserves the credit, rethinking his plans overnight, giving Leach extra protection against the sweep in the middle of the deep wicket and the left-arm spinner took advantage of the resulting indecision.
Twice Leach hit the ball after being tossed over the top, his triple digits lifted when Saud Shakeel torched a compact half-century with a miss that was superbly held by Jimmy Anderson. What followed instead summed up Pakistan’s unease as a whole, with Mohammad Rizwan taking 28 laborious balls out of the mark only to be knocked down on the back foot by a delivery that shredded his crooked leg shot.
Subsequently, Pakistan began distributing Christmas gifts to its guests. Mohammad Nawaz pierced Leach halfway and Joe Root hit twice in an over, Agha Salman inducing a collective crowd sound no different from his first name as he chipped at midwicket and Mohammad Ali edged Crawley as he slid through his pad .
Mark Wood then wrapped things up with a reminder of how most tails struggle with rhythm. After spotting Zahid’s forward pad, he then snuffed out a stand of 23 at the last wicket between Abrar and Faheem Ashraf when the latter went down with an outlandish flick. Wood, who never shied away from a smile at the best of times, could barely hide his glee at Pakistan’s latest push of the self-destruct button.
England had somehow stolen a baffling eight for 60 in 28.3 overs before lunch. Although Abrar soon began to flick his array of spinners and googlies, rolling promoted Will Jacks on the sweep and superbly making Root short-legged for 21, first Duckett and then Brook demonstrated that there is more to this team than some might assume.
Although Duckett fell before the fence, bowled over by a long jump from Abrar that stayed low, it instead further emphasized the balance of power.