Published on 20 Dec 2022 4:34 pm (UK Time)
England sauntered to victory on the fourth day of the final Test in Karachi, completing a historic whitewash. England’s left-handers Ben Duckett and captain Ben Stokes knocked off the remaining 55 runs in just over 11 overs, Duckett finishing unbeaten on 82, capping off a wonderful tour for the Nottinghamshire batsman.
Exactly a year to this day, England had just been hammered by Australia in Adelaide and were staring down the barrel of another Ashes humiliation down under. They lost the series a week later, in Melbourne, skittled out for an embarrassing 68. If Melbourne was their nadir, then Karachi is their zenith; England’s fortunes have transformed in the space of a year. England’s cricket in Australia was largely tentative and turgid; in Pakistan, it has been confident and free-flowing, a pleasure to play and a pleasure to watch.
England’s return to Pakistan has been a resounding success, not just purely from a results point of view, as they have garnered goodwill across a country still reeling from the tragic floods that have devastated the country. It has been a series played in good spirits, competitive without crossing the line. While England’s victory in Karachi was emphatic, it has been an enthralling series, full of tension and drama. England set the tone on a record-breaking first day in Rawalpindi; they had come to play postive cricket, unshackled and unburdened. England’s past tours of the subcontinent have been torturous to watch at times, making you want to disappear back under the duvet and go to sleep. McCullum and Stokes’s England have you springing out of bed before the alarm clocks even buzzed.
England’s commitment to positive cricket emerged during an exciting summer, Brendon McCullum’s arrival heralding a new era, with a captain in Ben Stokes who shared his free-flowing philosophy. England signalled their intent in Rawalpindi, smashing over 500 runs on an incredible first day. Bazball isn’t just a phase; it’s here to stay permanently. England’s approach is based on relaxation off the field and a total lack of fear on it. The players seem liberated, their minds uncluttered; McCullum and Stokes make things simple; go hell for leather; consequences don’t exist under this regime. Stokes’s captaincy has been superb, imaginative, and aggressive, never letting the opposition batsman settle and encouraging his bowlers to chase wickets.
New heroes have emerged. In the summer, Jonny Bairstow materialised as Bazball’s poster boy, leading several scintillating England chases. His freak injury paved the way for his Yorkshire compatriot, Harry Brook, to stake his claim in the side, and boy, did he take his chance. Brook has had a remarkable tour, scoring a staggering 468 runs across the three Tests, with three centuries. Brook bats with an authority that belies his tender years, a genuine three-format player; England has unearthed a gem. It’s not just Brook who has impressed; Ben Duckett made a stellar return to Test cricket, playing with swagger and confidence at the top of the order. Duckett has had to wait for his chance, six years to be precise, but he has made up for lost time.
Arguably, Rehan Ahmed has provided the greatest excitement for England fans, the eighteen-year-old announcing himself on the world stage with a debut five-for. English cricket has long had a fascination with leg-spinners, starved of their own and often tormented at the hands of others. Ahmed is a genuinely thrilling talent and one who hopefully isn’t confined to displaying his abilities in franchise cricket. At the other end of the age spectrum, James Anderson continues to defy logic, once again proving his worth as a match-winner. Ollie Robinson had a successful maiden tour of the sub-continent, quashing previous doubts about his fitness, while Mark Wood showcased the potency of raw pace and seemingly came through the tour unscathed. One must remember Jack Leach, too; perpetually underrated, he passed the hundred test wickets landmark during the series. Despite Ahmed’s outstanding debut, he deserves his status as England’s number-one spinner.
It was a disappointing series for Pakistan, with several batting collapses costing them dear. There were positives, however, the emergence of Saud Shakeel and Abrar Ahmed and the irresistible form of their captain Babar Azam. But their series was mired by inconsistent and somewhat baffling selections at times, issues which often hamper Pakistan’s test side. Admittedly, they were hamstrung by injuries to their pace trio; Shaheen Afridi missed the whole series because of a knee injury, while both Haris Rauf and Naseem Shah sustained injuries in the first Test, which curtailed their involvement.
England can look to 2023 with quiet optimism. Having won nine of their last ten matches, they are becoming a force to be reckoned with. England will relish a chance of Ashes revenge, but first, they face a tricky assignment in New Zealand, where they haven’t won a series since 2008. One thing is for sure, though, McCullum’s England will dive headfirst into any challenge. They fear nobody.