Anticipation peaks for second England-Pakistan Test
When Pakistan and England lock horns in the second Test match at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, there is so much to look forward to. This game has been perfectly set up by the first encounter, a match that England won against the odds, chasing down an unlikely target of 277 in the final innings.
In Manchester, the hero for England was Chris Woakes, who seemed to have ice in his veins as he made a nerveless unbeaten 84 in the run chase. Often overshadowed by the big names in his team, Woakes turned in all-round performance, also picking up four wickets in the Test and ending up the Man of the Match.
For Pakistan, despite the loss by three wickets, there were many positives to take. For large parts of the Test, the visiting team was on top, thanks mainly to their bowlers, who exploited the English conditions perfectly, combining seam and swing movement to keep the home team’s batsmen honest.
Had the game in our hands, says Azhar Ali
Azhar Ali, the Pakistan captain, came in for severe criticism for how his team allowed some of the key moments of the game to slip away from them. The focal point was Pakistan’s second innings at the bat.
With a 107-run first-innings lead, Pakistan had every chance to bat England out of the game, but they failed to do so, folding for only 169.
“I wouldn’t say we lost the match in [our] second innings, but we missed a chance to knock England out of the game there,” said Ali. “\That is a missed opportunity. But only once has such a huge total ever been chased at Old Trafford. We were on top, and with the tail coming in, we were sure we’d wrap it up if one more wicket fell. But they attacked from the off and snatched the game away from us. We do regret losing an opportunity to build partnerships in that second innings, which meant we couldn’t set them a chase of 300-plus, and that was a factor in us losing.”
Ali focused on the bigger picture, choosing not to single out any member of his team for blame. “I’ve been playing Test cricket for a long time, and I know that Test cricket is hard. It’s never over until it’s over. This has been shown again. The good thing is everyone stuck to their task, and unfortunately, we were outdone by a brilliant partnership between Woakes and Jos Buttler,” conceded Ali. “Yes, in hindsight, a lot of things can be done, but when they came and attacked the spinners, playing sweep shots and reverse sweeps. It all worked for them. Unfortunately, nothing worked for us, and when you play innings like that, you have to be a little lucky and fortune favoured them. Sometimes you have to give credit to the opposition.”
Ali was criticised for his captaincy, something that has continued from certain quarters even after the game, leaving himself to defend the process he had in place. “After playing international cricket for ten years, I understand when I need to make certain decisions. When I bat, I’m not thinking about the captaincy, whether or not I’m out of form. And when I’m captain, I don’t think about my batting at all, whether I scored a 100 or 0. That’s the job of the captain. There’s a lot of disappointment that we had this game in the palm of our hands, and we led at most points in the game, but that can happen sometimes. We’ve had a great record in England, and it’s a better record than any other Asian side has here. We should have won this game too, so I don’t think we struggle in England as such, and I’m confident we can challenge in the remaining two games.”
Stokes forced to miss the remainder of series
Ben Stokes, England’s talismanic allrounder, was forced to exit the bio-secure bubble and miss the remainder of the Test series. Stokes had to travel to New Zealand to be with his family and tide over a personal crisis.
It is understood that Stokes’s father, Ged, who was hospitalised late last year, has been recuperating at home after receiving treatment. “The England and Wales Cricket Board, along with the Stokes family, requests that all media respects the family’s privacy at this time,” the ECB said in a statement.
The absence of Stokes will level the playing field somewhat, with England having to make changes to their playing eleven to keep the balance of the team intact.
Anderson dismisses retirement rumours
Meanwhile, James Anderson, the spearhead of the England bowling attack, rubbished rumours that he intended to retire shortly. Anderson, who is 38 years old and is currently the highest Test wicket-taker among seamers in the history of the game, did not have a good outing in the first Test and admitted that retirement “could be taken out of his hands” if he did not deliver results.
But, for his part, Anderson is hungry for more and keen to continue. “It’s been a frustrating week for me. I’ve not bowled very well and felt out of rhythm. For the first time in probably 10 years, I got a little bit emotional on the field,” said Anderson after the first Test. “I got a bit frustrated and let it get to me a little bit. It reminded me of when I first started playing, when you get frustrated and a little bit angry, you try and bowl quicker and quicker, and it doesn’t help. Yes, I want to play in the Ashes. But it’s not like that’s a focus of mine. I want to play as long as I possibly can. I’m still hungry to play the game.”
Anderson admitted that talk of his retirement, among other things, did get to him and affect his performance in the game. “I didn’t bowl that badly. But I feel like, in the second innings, in particular, a chance went down, and I let it get to me. I’m normally pretty good at [thinking] if you’ve created a chance, then that’s a positive thing. It’s obviously frustrating when a catch goes down, but if you’re creating chances, you must be doing something right,” said Anderson. “But I let it get to me a bit. I got a bit too emotional, a bit too frustrated. I just felt I wasn’t bowling to the standards I set myself.”
The highly successful England bowler, one of the most feared on the circuit, hoped that he could put the lacklustre performance behind him, and also that he would be given a little more leeway in future. “I just don’t want every time I have a bad game for there to be whispers going around that I’m going to pack in. For me, it’s about trying to find a way of dealing with that, dealing with the outside noise. I’ve done that really well in my career, but it’s a little bit different now,” said Anderson. “I did feel that pressure a little bit. Whether it’s the pressure of expectation or the pressure of the match situation, I feel I’ve dealt with it pretty well in my career, but this week I probably didn’t deal with it that well. That’s something I need to look at and personally work on. The minute you start thinking about the whispers or things like that it can affect you. I’ve got to throw myself into the match situation.”
Buttler battles back into the sun
Jos Buttler, who was under severe pressure to keep his place in the team, repaid the faith shown in him with a crucial 75 in the second innings. It was not as though Buttler was in the middle of a bad patch, but so much was expected of him that he had failed to live up to the high standards he has set for himself. Buttler’s work behind the stumps was patchy, and he recognised this.
“I’m very aware I didn’t keep well, I missed some chances, and at this level, you can’t afford to do that no matter how many runs you score. You’ve got to be better, I know that,” said Buttler. “Definitely thoughts go through your head, like potentially if I don’t score any runs I’ve probably played my last game. Those kinds of things are in your head, but you’ve got to try and shut them out and try and focus on the here and now and play the situation, and I’m pleased that I was able to do that.”
Buttler recalled the advise given to him by Joe Root ahead of the final day, something that worked wonders. “Joe actually said before, ‘remember who you are; you enjoy chasing targets down, try to limit it to a one-day game’. A game like today really suited me and suited my eye, in terms of the run chase and breaking it down to more of a one-day game and trying to tick runs off and get us to the finishing line.”