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The first test in Pakistan stretched the endurance of even the most ardent cricket fans, after four days of excruciatingly slow cricket on a pitch that was dead for bowlers. Even the flurry of excitement on the fifth day as Adil Rashid claimed five wickets in quick succession, did little to mask the lack of entertainment but more to open up old debates about the use of floodlights to finish off test matches.
It was a shame that the match panned out the way it did, but Yasir Shah’s injury robbed Pakistan of one of their top spin bowlers, while the pitch was tailor-made for batting. Both sides (and the whole of the cricket world) will be hoping for a completely different match when they take to the field again on Thursday 22nd October for the 2nd test in Dubai.
The match was long-destined for a draw after Pakistan amassed a first innings total of 523 before declaring. England responded by hitting 598 declared, with captain Alistair Cook smashing a record-breaking 263 runs. Adil Rashid had a test debut to remember after recovering from the worst bowling figures ever by a debutante when he was hit for 163-0 in the first innings, to claim 5-64 to put England in with a chance of an unlikely win on the final day. It was a hugely impressive performance by Rashid after his early disappointment, but he was helped by some questionable Pakistan batting, and it remains to be seen how much of an impact he can have over a longer period of time.
The hosts were shorn of one of their best forms of attack when Yasir Shah suffered a back spasm prior to the 1st test and was unable to compete. He is expected back for the 2nd test in Dubai, and his presence will be a huge boost for Pakistan. They were left short-handed in the spin bowling stakes last week, and had to proceed with a three-man pace attack in Abu Dhabi, which certainly didn’t help their efforts.
Ultimately it was the pitch that had the biggest effect on the game though, with pundits and former professionals lining up to condemn the surface. Ex-England batsman Mike Atherton warned that pitches as flat as this one which offer no assistance to bowlers could be ‘disastrous’ for the long-form game, and it proved to be so for this particular test, with spin bowlers struggling throughout.
That wasn’t the biggest issue though, as the use of floodlights for five-day tests was also brought sharply back into focus, after play was ended due to bad light on the final day with England just 25 runs short of victory. Cook and co. had reached 74-4 in just 11 overs when the umpires made the decision to end the game due to low light levels – similar to those that brought about the end of play on the previous day. Former English captain Michael Vaughan questioned the decision and said that for the good of the game, teams should stay out there under the lights to finish a game.
Regardless of that debate, which will rumble on, it was a promising performance from England in some respects with Alistair Cook’s 836-minute innings the third longest innings in test history, and the longest ever by an Englishman. In addition, despite the shaky start to his test career, the five-wicket haul by Adil Rashid demonstrated that he is worth his chance at this level, and that he could become an integral part of the England team in the future.
The Importance of Spin
Onto the second test and, on the assumption that the pitch will be better, there should be much more in the game for spinners. In the hot conditions and with pitches that typically suit spin, this series should have been all about the spinners, and it is hoped that the 2nd test will provide them with the necessary platform.
Offspinner Asif was reported for a suspect action following the third ODI against Zimbabwe in Harere recently. He’s undergone testing but the results will not be known for a few weeks, making him eligible for selection for this 2nd test. Yasir Shah – who took player of the series against Zimbabwe – missed out through injury last week, but he is also expected to be back, and between the two they provide Pakistan with great options in terms of bowling.
The big decision for England is whether to persevere with Jonny Bairstow at number 5, or to select James Taylor due to his ability to deal with spin. Bairstow has made an average of just 26 in 30 test innings, and in only two of those matches has he been asked to don the wicket-keeping gloves. That means for the other games he was free to concentrate on batting, and he has unfortunately offered a poor return. Taylor performed well in the practice matches against Pakistan A prior to this series, where he dealt with the spin bowlers very proficiently and it’s a big decision for England to make. The prospective return of Yasir Shah may force their hand, and it’s telling to see how much effect a Pakistan spin bowler may have on the England team selection.
With spin expected to come to the fore England will be under pressure from the combined talents of Shah and Babar, and those two will be hard to resist. Rashid may step up to the plate again but on the other hand he could suffer as badly as he did in the first innings, and that uncertainty is not ideal at top level cricket. The relative experience of the Pakistan players makes it much safer to side with them. England have played two tests on this ground, losing them both.
Pakistan to beat England
2nd Test, Starts 22nd October 6:00 GMT
Odds: 11/8 2.38 +138 1.38 1.38 -0.72