England defy centuries-old testing traditions and dare to leave everyone behind
4 December 2022. The sun is beating down on what is already very placid Rawalpindi ground. England seem to hold all the aces but with the box offering nothing in terms of assists, a draw seems the most likely outcome.
Fans, so far, have not cared about the nature of the contest. Because Pakistan test cricket has been such a luxury lately, they are just happy to watch any type of contest. England, to their credit, provided plenty of entertainment for those who showed up. They made over six runs per set, and that carried over into the second set as well, scoring over seven runs in each set.
Such a buccaneer stick often leaves a residue – most often this is in the form of wickets. England, at Tea on Day 4, have lost seven wickets and lead by just 342. Liam Livingstone, white ball marauder but in his test debut, is still there, however. And almost everyone in the world knows the amount of destruction it can cause.
So if England were to think of adding maybe fifty more points before declaring, few people would have complained. In fact, that’s how Test cricket has been played all these years – first make sure the game is safe, then think about how you can win it.
But England, under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum – the Test cricket power couple never knew they needed it – don’t do things as convention dictates. Instead, they do things they believe in, and once they decide, they follow through. When they speak, the world listens. Not because they’re charismatic, but because they lead by example – something most others don’t, especially when under pressure.
A day later, all England, the choices of McCullum and Stokes are justified. In the waning sunlight, on arguably the most placid ground these guys have ever played on, Jack Leach drives past Naseem Shah’s inside edge and corners him in front.
The first reaction is to applaud Leach, who, let’s not forget, was no regular at the former captain Joe Root. But as the moment settles a little, you can’t pinpoint one individual in particular who helped England to that historic victory.
Stokes called the shots. But the points were scored by Ben Duckett, Harry Brook, Ollie Pope, Zak Crawley and Root. Stokes placed attack fields. But James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Leach seized the opportunity at different times.
And that’s why this team, despite only being together for a few months, is amazing. They all know who their leader is. They like it to pieces and would probably run through a brick wall if that was what Stokes asked them. Their captain, however, also knows that for this ultra-aggressive philosophy to work, he needs every member of the team to be invested in the cause. No ifs and buts.
England were brilliant throughout the Rawalpindi Test
On day one, England broke all sorts of batting records. Chronicling them in this particular article may not make much sense, as it has already been well documented. Even on opening day, they were clear about how they wanted to approach this test.
They could have sat down, as Australia did earlier in the year at this very spot on a surface that looked more like a track than a cricket pitch. But they didn’t. They risked losing the game because they thought they had to win this contest.
With the ball too, their plans were a deviation from what is deemed conventional. In Pakistan, spinners are normally expected to play a crucial role. Instead, England used their fast bowlers to perfection, extracting a ton of reverse swing. Anderson and Robinson, in particular, were superb.
Incidentally, both have had questions about their relevance in the subcontinent. Anderson, largely because of his age. Robinson, because he hasn’t played much on these shores. The couple, however, responded emphatically to such criticism, almost using a ploy Pakistan once made famous in the 1990s, and moving away from what came naturally to them.
Eight games, especially in this format, is not an indicator of a team’s success. There is a chance that England will switch to India, where the ball will turn square and deflate the bubble of positivity it currently carries. Will England seek to do things differently?
Maybe not. And that’s the key takeaway from this historic test. There will be days when this approach falls flat on them – days when they get shot for a pittance and people ask why they have to strike with such urgency in a game that lasts five days. In the Stokes-McCullum era, however, there is no turning back. The only time they look back is to see how far they’ve come.
Remember, not too long ago England were losing Tests of all shapes and sizes. They were blown away in Australia. They were shredded by India. England was even beaten in the West Indies. And here they are now. Don’t fear losing because they believe what they are doing will lead to more wins than losses.
In many ways, England have defied the age-old traditions of Test cricket and dare to leave everyone behind. Of course, one game doesn’t mean they’ve already done it.
But if you continue to ignore how they have, almost single-handedly, tried to change the way Test cricket should be played, and if you haven’t really appreciated what they are trying to do – especially at a In a time when every mistake will be amplified and criticized on social media, you may have been watching the sport the wrong way from the start.
England, through sheer willpower, bravery and courage, breathed life into a lifeless pitch in Rawalpindi. So much so that if this team ceased to exist tomorrow, it would still have a chapter of its own in cricketing folklore. That should tell you everything you need to know about the particularity of this performance.