Published on 5 Dec 2022 5:51 pm (UK Time)
England clinched a stunning victory on a pulsating final day in Rawalpindi, in arguably one of their greatest overseas victories. Jack Leach ended Naseem’s Shah staunch resistance in near-darkness, leaving Pakistan 268 all out, 75 short of their target of 343, in scenes reminiscent of England’s win in Karachi twenty-two years ago, their last victory on Pakistani soil. It marks England’s first away win in twelve Tests, the reward for a performance full of endeavour, perseverance, skill, and sheer bloody-mindedness, the pinnacle of an exciting new era already punctuated with some soaring highs.
England defied their virus-plagued build-up and a placid pitch to take control of the series on a final day that provided a superb advertisement for Test cricket, full of drama as the momentum repeatedly changed hands. It was an outstanding team performance from England, overflowing with valuable contributions. However, special credit must go to Ollie Robinson and the evergreen James Anderson who took eight wickets between themselves in a monumental effort; Robinson playing in his first Test match in Asia, showed a mastery of reverse swing as outstanding as it was unexpected.
The day began with the match on a knife edge; Pakistan bolstered with the news that Azhar Ali would be fit enough to bat. England drew first blood; after a typically disciplined start from Anderson, Imam Ul-Haq strangled one down the leg-side, where Ollie Pope took a good catch, leaving Pakistan 89-3. Saud Shakeel and Mohammad Rizwan batted sensibly, wrestling back control and punishing England’s spinners, whose 16 overs in the morning session cost 72 runs, contrastingly England’s seamers were miserly, conceding just 14 runs from the same number of overs.
Rizwan perished shortly after lunch, nibbling one outside off-stump through to Pope off of the relentless Anderson as Pakistan seemed torn between sticking or twisting. Six overs later, the impressive Shakeel’s resistance was broken, substitute Keaton Jennings taking a superb diving catch at short-cover off the bowling of Robinson, as England wrestled control of the match.
The returning Azhar Ali and Agha Salman rebuilt the innings as the momentum swung ever so slightly back toward Pakistan, showing composure in the face of a stern examination from England’s seamers as Ben Stokes engaged in one of his marathon spells, sensing it was a pivotal moment in the match. By tea, the pendulum was firmly in Pakistan’s favour, requiring another 86 to win with five wickets in hand and roared on by a vociferous, packed-out crowd.
England’s pressure finally told after tea. Declining the second new ball, Robinson trapped Salman LBW on review with one that jagged back in sharply. Just two overs later, Azhar followed, guiding one to Root at leg slip, becoming Robinson’s fourth victim of the innings. England smelt blood, and in the 88th over, the indefatigable Anderson took them to the brink of victory, first dislodging Zahid Mahmood courtesy of a stunning Ollie Pope catch and then trapping Haris Rauf plumb in front just two balls later. Mohammad Ali and Naseem Shah made them sweat, showing dogged resistance as England took the second new ball in a final roll of the dice. With the light dipping behind the stands, it looked as if England was to be cruelly denied. Step forward, Jack Leach, who ended Naseem’s brave 46-ball vigil, sparking jubilant scenes of English celebration.
It was an enthralling last day, providing the rich drama and entertainment that only Test cricket can produce. Credit must go to Pakistan, who easily could have folded after England’s first-day onslaught. For Ben Stokes, it was a vindication of his bold declaration yesterday evening and his absolute commitment to forcing victory, even if it meant briefly flirting with defeat. Stokes described the win as ‘mind-blowing,’ a perfect summarisation of England’s cricket over the past five days. England head to Multan on Friday with a chance of winning the series, and one thing is for sure, England will only be interested in winning.