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Monday February 06, 2023

News Analysis: Can Pakistan survive record-breaking England blitz?

Seventeen days after taming Pakistan in the T20 World Cup final in Melbourne, England continued their domination of Babar Azam and his men, this time in the red-ball format

December 02, 2022
Englands Ben Duckett celebrates after completing his century. AFP
England's Ben Duckett celebrates after completing his century. AFP 

RAWALPINDI: Seventeen days after taming Pakistan in the T20 World Cup final in Melbourne, England continued their domination of Babar Azam and his men, this time in the red-ball format. 

On a seemingly dead Pindi wicket, England gave Pakistan a taste of ‘Bazball’ as they clobbered 506-4 in just 75 overs shattering a series of records to almost effectively bat the hosts out of the opening Test on day one. With Harry Brook (101 from 81) and skipper Ben Stokes (34 from 15) set to resume the innings on Friday morning and the likes of Will Jacks and Liam Livingstone yet to come, England have the firepower to add 500 more against a toothless Pakistani attack on a benign track.

But instead of amassing a huge total, England would try making Pakistan bat as soon as possible to make sure they have enough time to take 20 wickets and win the series opener. That’s the difference between the two teams.

England are a team that want to win Tests at all costs. Brendon McCullum, England’s coach on whose nickname ‘Baz’ the playful term ‘Bazball’ is based, announced in the lead up to the three-Test series that his team would go all out to enforce results even if there is a risk of losing. Pakistan, in stark contrast, is a team that is almost always looking to avoid defeat. That’s the only explanation for yet another graveyard of a pitch in Pindi where Pakistan’s bowling attack was put to sword by England’s batters in spectacular fashion.

Test cricket has seldom seen such a merciless thrashing of a home team and that too on the opening day of a series. Playing their first Test in Pakistan since 2005, England treated Pakistan’s attack with disdain right from the word go. The stunning 233-run partnership between openers Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett was like a hammer blow for Pakistan, who were just floored by the opposition during a completely one-sided opening day. Crawley and Duckett both scored effortless tons in what was the fastest opening stand in Test history. Two more came from Brook and Ollie Pope. The way Stokes is batting and the hosts are bowling, a fifth century on Friday won’t come as a surprise. It’s the first time in Test history that a team has ended day one of a Test with four centurions. It’s the first time that four or more batsmen have scored a century in a Test innings against Pakistan. The biggest record of the day, however, was England becoming the first team to cross the 500-run mark on the first day of a Test. By scoring 506 on the opening day, the visitors have broken a record that stood for 112 years.

While England were basking in the glory of what was one of their most memorable Test outings in Pakistan, the hosts must be wondering what went wrong?

They were just blown away by the English juggernaut. For that, one must give Stokes and his men due credit. But what happened on Thursday couldn’t have been possible without some help from the hosts. Pakistan dug their own grave by preparing a completely placid wicket. Then they fielded an inexperienced bowling attack. And on top of that, Babar Azam lost the toss. It was a recipe for disaster and the Pakistan team’s think-tank is responsible for it. They chose uncapped medium pacer Mohammad Ali over the likes of Mohammad Abbas and Fahim Ashraf. They opted for the gentle spin of Zahid Mahmood over young mystery spinner Abrar Ahmed.

It’s quite a long list of bad calls. And they might cost Pakistan not just in this Test but in the entire series. After what happened on Thursday, a Pakistani victory in Pindi is the most unlikely of the results. The best they can do now is to save this Test to keep their hopes of winning the series 2-0 and stay alive in their quest to qualify for the final of the World Test Championship. But for a team whose strategy is to avoid defeat, such an ambitious target seems out of reach.

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