In the 250-year history of first-class cricket, no side has ever lost after putting as many as 657 runs on the board at the start. But England go into the final day of their first Test in Rawalpindi not caring whether they set yet another record, Ben Stokes prepared to risk defeat to Pakistan in pursuit of what would be a famous victory.
It follows a fourth day that summed up the mentality shift since Rob Key played matchmaker and paired Stokes with Brendon McCullum. Not only did England produce another trolley dash for runs, when Harry Brook’s latest tilt at becoming England’s fastest centurion ended on 87 from 65 balls, Stokes declared at tea to set Pakistan 343 to win in four sessions on a pitch making this eminently possible.
Whether bold or foolhardy, it meant the promise made by the England captain and his head coach had been kept. England landed in Pakistan for a first Test series in 17 years vowing to entertain first and let the results take care of themselves. There is an evangelical zeal to all this too – to breathe new life into Test cricket during the Twenty20 era – and so to hell with the consequences, apparently.
As Pakistan closed on 80 for two from 20 overs, a tantalising fifth day had been set up when many expected a soporific stalemate was likeliest. Keaton Jennings, on as a substitute fielder for the injured Liam Livingstone, dropped a tough chance at short leg off Saud Shakeel but the tourists were still content after a combative final session in which Stokes and Ollie Robinson unleashed a barrage of bouncers with the new ball.
A bid to get the Kookaburra ball reversing for Jimmy Anderson early by smashing it into the surface? Nope, rather the element of surprise. Pakistan’s top order failed to cope, Robinson persuading Abdullah Shafique to top-edge a hook down long leg’s throat and then seeing Azhar Ali retire hurt with a nasty blow to his finger second ball. When Stokes knocked over Babar Azam with another short ball that Pakistan’s captain and kingpin meekly wafted behind, another enterprising plan had worked.
You could have heard a pin drop in ’Pindi at this moment but Imam-ul-Haq got another bumper crowd going once more before the close, following a wonderfully livewire performance on the boundary’s edge during England’s Supermarket Sweep by reaching 43 not out, with Saud unbeaten on 24. McCullum said he wanted his England players to entertain above all else – to be “rocks stars” – and certainly no one could claim to be short-changed as they headed for the exits.
The highlights mainly came for England, even if Agha Salman hit a punchy 53 for Pakistan first thing and Naseem Shah tried to whip up a storm, enjoying the last laugh in his team’s previously one-sided battle with Brook by detonating his stumps. Joe Root briefly batted left-handed during frictionless 69-ball 73, while Ollie Pope handed Will Jacks his maiden five-wicket haul in all forms of cricket – amid figures of six for 161 on debut – as Pakistan were eventually bowled out for 579 first thing.
England’s batters once again emerged from the old pavilion like a gang of Tasmanian devils, crashing 27 fours and six sixes en route to 264 for seven in just 35.5 overs. During this Test they have scored 921 runs from just 821 balls – a remarkable run-rate of 6.73 per over that has never bettered by a team that has batted twice in a Test.
Ben Duckett did follow Thursday’s 107 with a golden duck as Naseem roared in, while Pope top-edged a hook to long leg on 15 barely 30 minutes after the last of his 155 overs as a stand-in wicketkeeper. Zak Crawley finessed 50 from 48 balls before gloving a short ball from Mohammad Ali behind, his attempt to deter the review by rubbing his shoulder suggesting his chances of an audition at Rada are limited.
But from 96 for three the engine room sustained the rate, Root and Brook putting on 90 in the liveliest display of sweeps since Mary Poppins. The younger Yorkshireman summed up the elan with a mown six off Zahid Mahmood for his first scoring shot. And though Stokes rather self-immolated third ball after Root finally fell to the leg-spinner, Jacks met the brief with three sixes of his own.
“A powerful Joe Root,” is how assistant coach Paul Collingwood described Brook afterwards. The 23-year-old had looked on course to beat Gilbert Jessop’s England record 76-ball hundred, set against Australia in 1902, after an incendiary 80-ball maiden Test century in the first innings fell just short.
Back in Fordington Cemetery, Dorchester, some 5,000 miles from Rawalpindi, Jessop can rest easy for now. But the way his modern-day equivalents are playing – consequence stripped away and draws off the table – it feels only a matter of time.