After the one-sided clashes during the Sri Lanka series, the Lord’s Test between England and Pakistan was very refreshing. The weather also complemented the match, and the cricket matched the weather, right through the four days of play. Yes, there were some poor catching at times, from both Pakistan and England, but it seems to be the norm these days at Lord’s – I’m not too sure exactly why, but there’s a theory about fielders looking into the advertising hoardings when the ball is low. But, apart from that, the standard of cricket was pretty high.
It was, to an extent, something of a reality check for England, and Alastair Cook said as much. He said it showed them what they have to do to beat good teams. To do that, they have to be consistent throughout a Test match. You can’t just shoot off the blocks and hope that’s good enough. And, for Pakistan, it was consistency that eventually won them the Test. England found Yasir Shah’s skills, in the first innings in particular, hard to handle. He didn’t bowl a bad ball in that innings, which then put pressure on the England batsmen.
Only Joe Root seemed to have an idea of how to tackle him. If you have a team that has only four bowlers in the line-up – three seamers and one spinner – and you can knock the spinner out of the attack, that will put a lot of pressure on the three seamers, and of course, the captain. Root didn’t execute his shot well, but it was the right idea.
It was, to an extent, something of a reality check for England, and Alastair Cook said as much. He said it showed them what they have to do to beat good teams. To do that, they have to be consistent throughout a Test match. You can’t just shoot off the blocks and hope that’s good enough. And, for Pakistan, it was consistency that eventually won them the Test.
That said, Shah bowled a lot better in the first innings, not because he got more wickets but because he didn’t bowl a bad ball. That sent shivers down England’s spines. They have not played legspin very well over the decades, and Shah’s first-innings effort might have just brought back some ghosts.
It didn’t help that England lacked discipline, particularly in the second innings. They needed to recognise that this is a stronger team they are playing against, when compared to Sri Lanka. They have to spend more time on the crease. Some of them did. I think Johnny Bairstow played a fantastic innings on the fourth day, although he would be disappointed he couldn’t win the game. But he showed a great deal of discipline and learnt from the mistake that caused his dismissal in the first innings, as did Chris Woakes, the way he applied himself. But a lot of other batsmen will have to show that level of discipline and commitment if they are going to succeed against this much better bowling attack than the one they came up against versus Sri Lanka.
This is Test match cricket. It isn’t meant to be easy. When you’re playing against a good team, you’ve to play with fight, with determination and character. That’s what Test cricket brings out in you. If you can show that, you’ll succeed. If not, you’ll find a lot more of this happening against good teams.
In retrospect, I wouldn’t have selected Gary Ballance in the team. I was quite happy the first time I saw him, but then in the series against Australia, he looked like a shattered man. Maybe they have seen something in him since and he has rebounded, but it’s difficult to come back when you get into the state I saw him in against Australia.
It is an area where Mohammad Amir really impressed with the control over his emotions. I can’t imagine what would have been going through his mind. The main story in the lead up to the match wasn’t England taking on Pakistan. It was Mohammad Amir returning to Test cricket at the scene of his crime. But he showed immense control of his emotions to go out there and perform. He didn’t set the world alight by taking ten wickets like Shah, but Amir bowled well, he had catches dropped off him, and he got a few wickets. It would certainly ease the pressure on him going forward.
Back to England, apart from return for Jimmy Anderson and Ben Stokes, I don’t see them panicking and making wholesale changes. It would make their original selections look too bad. There are whispers surrounding James Vince and his position in the team. Now, Vince hasn’t made much runs but he made his highest score in this match and it’s going to be difficult to drop him after he has done that, even if they weren’t great runs. They can say he’s improving and hope he goes on and gets a big score in the next match. I don’t see them dropping Vince. In fact, I don’t see too many changes for the Old Trafford Test apart from the obvious return of the aforementioned two.
I wasn’t personally happy with some of what I saw with Pakistan. Forget the catching – both teams dropped them – but Misbah-ul-Haq was, in my opinion, a bit wayward with some of his field placing. For example, when Wahab Riaz was bowling after ten overs, he had a fine leg, a deep backward square-leg and a man at point on the boundary. I didn’t see the need for that.
As for Pakistan, history suggests they are quite capable of following up this terrific win with a poor show, but this time round, I think there’s a new discipline in the team. The celebration that they did, with the saluting and the press-ups, was a reference to the training they did with the army before the series. You don’t get a more disciplined unit than the army anywhere in the world. Perhaps they have adopted some discipline from that training. We might see a new Pakistan team, a resurgent side, as far as results are concerned. They have always had talent in that country. But maybe now, the results will match the talent.
That said, I wasn’t personally happy with some of what I saw with Pakistan. Forget the catching – both teams dropped them – but Misbah-ul-Haq was, in my opinion, a bit wayward with some of his field placing. For example, when Wahab Riaz was bowling after ten overs, he had a fine leg, a deep backward square-leg and a man at point on the boundary. I didn’t see the need for that. There is no way a man of Riaz’s ability should require a field like that unless the score was 200 for 2. If I am giving you the fairly new ball and that’s the field you ask me for, I’m going to take the ball back and give it to somebody else, because, obviously, you’re not going to bowl well. But, then again, that might have been the captain insisting on that field and, at the end of the day, they won.
Pakistan achieved what they set out to achieve. It has set this series up quite nicely.