Ollie Robinson proves the value of England playing to their traditional strengths

Robinson celebrates/Ollie Robinson struck to remove danger man Babar Azam - AP/ANJUM NAVEED
Robinson celebrates/Ollie Robinson struck to remove danger man Babar Azam - AP/ANJUM NAVEED

On a turning track in Multan, Pakistan and England are looking to take their wickets in very different ways.

Pakistan have five spin options in their side, with two of them – Abrar Ahmed and Zahid Mahmood – sharing all 10 wickets on the opening day. Their two seamers will probably barely get a bowl in the second innings.

England, meanwhile, replaced a spin option, Liam Livingstone, with a seamer, Mark Wood, meaning they have four pace options alongside Jack Leach, Will Jacks and Joe Root. They are playing to their traditional strengths, and those that won them the match in Rawalpindi, on a very different pitch to this one. With spin from one end and the seamers rotating at the other, they are in a race for reverse swing.

England did have other options. They could have brought back Ben Foakes, their first-choice wicketkeeper for one of James Anderson or Ollie Robinson, who put so much into Monday’s win. Or they could have brought in their own spin-bowling rookie crackerjack, Rehan Ahmed.

The drawback of this approach is that the attack can look slightly unbalanced, with a seamer often kicking his heels. On the first afternoon, only two of the four were used. Ben Stokes did not bowl, although that was not such a surprise, as he has taken to saving himself for the game’s sharp end, when he is at his most influential.

But Robinson did not bowl either, which was more of a surprise. He is a traditional English seamer but, having enjoyed success bowling short with the new ball in Rawalpindi, did not even get a look in the first 28 overs on day one. That gave him an extra day off. On the second morning, he was not first choice either, with Anderson and Leach again starting England off.

When he did finally enter the attack, in the 35th over, he bowled a superb spell that helped keep England in the game. With just his second ball, he jagged one back through Babar Azam’s gate, picking up Pakistan’s key player, who had been purred last night and again on day two. It was a beautiful ball that clattered into Babar’s middle stump.

His wicket took Robinson’s Test average back below 20, into his 13th match. He has shown in Pakistan, where he is playing first-class cricket in Asia for the first time, that there is a depth to his bowling. Five of his six wickets on this tour have come after the 30th over; the one that did not was in the midst of a bumper barrage.

Robinson gave Pakistan nothing for free across his five-over spell. Just two runs came from it, with Mohammad Rizwan sitting on nought for 27 balls. As a period of 13 overs cost just 17 runs, Saud Shakeel, who played so well, saw the runs dry up too, and eventually the pressure told as he holed out to Jack Leach. That was Leach’s 100th Test wicket, and the 101st and 102nd followed soon after too.

Jack Leach picked up his 100th Test wicket - AP/ANJUM NAVEED
Jack Leach picked up his 100th Test wicket - AP/ANJUM NAVEED

By then, Robinson’s spell of 5-3-2-1 had ended. It would be his only one of the innings. Root joined Leach in the attack, and picked up two wickets of his own, then Wood chipped in too. It was a similarly influential spell to the one Robinson bowled early on the fifth day in Rawalpindi, building pressure.

Robinson’s brilliant ball to Babar had sparked a collapse of eight for 60 that turned the game on its head. All the while, that seam-heavy attack looked rather well balanced.