Pakistan vs England: First Test poised for thrilling finale after breathtaking fourth day

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

England’s eccentricities paid off as they finished day four with a chance of victory in the first Test, needing eight Pakistan wickets tomorrow to force what would be an unlikely result.

The day started with Will Jacks claiming the final three Pakistan wickets to finish with figures of 6-161. In doing so, Jacks became the first spinner to take a six-fer on debut for England since 1993. An achievement made all the more remarkable for it being the first time in his professional career that he has claimed more than four wickets in an innings.

With a first-innings lead of 78, England forced the issue in order to set up a declaration and despite losing Ben Duckett and Ollie Pope early (the former for a golden duck) England batted with the flair and power that they are becoming so synonymous with. Joe Root and Harry Brook, in particular, the stars of the show.

Root swept Pakistan’s spinners mercilessly whilst manipulating the field at will. His 73 off 69 balls contained only six boundaries as he rarely faced a dot ball. The two standout moments from his innings came against Naseem Shah when he reverse-ramped the Pakistan seamer over the slip cordon for four before he faced two balls as a conventional left-hander against the legspin of Zahid Mahmood. Even for this England side, it was ingenious and creative batting.

Meanwhile at the other end, Brook, for the second time in the match, threatened to score the fastest century by an Englishman in Test history as he bludgeoned his way to 87 off 65 before he was clean bowled on the stroke of tea. In total, Brook scored 240 runs off 181 balls in this Test. There were runs, too, for Zak Crawley who made a round 50 to back up his first-innings century.

With tea came England’s declaration. A score of 264-7 giving them a lead of 343, a figure that Pakistan chased successfully against Sri Lanka just two Tests ago.

It was a declaration in keeping with the spirit of the team. This week alone Joe Root has spoken about England being a two-result team. We either win or we lose, no draws allowed. Whereas Crawley spoke of placing entertainment above winning. England’s declaration was the logical conclusion of both statements and the message was clear. England were willing to risk losing, in order to be able to win.

And their unusual approach with the bat and with their risky declaration was continued with the ball. Ollie Robinson sent down just two full length deliveries before England were satisfied that the ball wasn’t swinging and they switched to bowling short at Pakistan’s batters. A tactic in part designed to be able to rough up the ball in order to access reverse swing earlier.

So, in one of the more unusual sights of English cricket over the last 20 years, James Anderson was on the pitch but not opening the bowling, as Stokes shared the duties with Robinson and they harassed the Pakistani batters with short-ball after short-ball.

And it worked. First, Abdullah Shafique failed to control a pull shot and was caught by Brook on the boundary, before Stokes claimed the crucial wicket of Pakistan captain Babar Azam who feathered behind to Ollie Pope. A wicket that was met with shock and bemusement from the adoring home crowd. In between those two wickets, Azhar Ali had also been forced to retire hurt after being struck on the hand.

Imam-ul-Haq and Saud Shakeel would take their team to the close without further loss and batted beautifully against England’s spinners, regularly tucking away boundaries. There would be one chance, when Imam struck the ball straight to substitute fielder Keaton Jennings at short-leg, but the tough catch would go down.

Ultimately, Pakistan finished the day 80-2 needing a further 263 for victory. England might win, and they could still lose. But most importantly, they wouldn’t have it any other way.