The beauty of Test cricket is its topsy-turvy nature. When two top teams are battling it out to gain supremacy, the contest is always the most exciting one and a treat for the cricket lovers. Amid the media-hyped Twenty20 cricket, the month of July and August offered some of the most mouthwatering contests for the classic followers of the game and shut the mouth of those modern minds, who love to say, Test cricket is dying.
The fourth Test match between England and Pakistan was beautifully poised and kept the fans and critics guessing about the outcome. In the end, the Pakistani ship sunk despite stamping their authority over four and a half days. England, who were almost down and out of the game, clawed back to notch up a victory, leaving the Pakistanis stunned.
It was a wonderful effort by the English team, but they must be thankful for some sloppy cricket by the Pakistanis, especially their captain Misbah-ul-Haq whose pragmatic tactics didn’t do Pakistan any favour.
Win the toss and bat first
The great WG Grace once said, “When you win the toss – bat. If you are in doubt, think about it, then bat. If you have very big doubts, consult a colleague – then bat.”
The track at Edgbaston was true and suitable for batting. Any captain would have chosen to bat first after winning the toss. But Misbah-ul-Haq did the opposite. Perhaps, he was influenced by the records of the past. Since 2005, no teams have ever won a Test match in Edgbaston while batting first, but a competent captain hardly gets influenced by such facts and judges things on the basis of his team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Pakistan are not well known for chasing totals but quite efficient in defending totals. While the current Pakistani batsmen are struggling to regain their form, allowing them to chase on the final day was not a smart move at all. At the end of the day, the Pakistani batting line-up collapsed miserably. The pressure of chasing a total and occupying the crease took its toll on them.
The Pakistani tail’s failure to support Sarfaraz in the first innings
Pakistan started day 3 at 257 for 3. But all of a sudden, their batting order wobbled. Sarfaraz Ahmed was the only recognized batsman who kept on fighting. But he lacked the ideal support from the tailenders. History suggests, on many occasions, the Pakistani tailenders have provided able support to stretch the lead.
But at Edgbaston, in the first innings, they showed little character to provide the perfect foil to Sarfaraz’s composure. The last seven wickets fell for just 143 runs, which was not enough to challenge an England side who are beaming with confidence and possess the ability to bounce back. Pakistan had a wonderful opportunity to bat England out of the game, but the lack of effort from the tailenders didn’t help Pakistan at all.
Absence of a fifth bowler
Sohail Khan struck gold in the first innings, but when he was introduced in the second innings, his fatigue was evident. His lack of energy and intent hinted, he lacked the proper match practice while Rahat Ali’s indiscipline line-and-length put undue pressure on Amir and Yasir. The presence of an all-rounder would have helped Pakistan a lot.
In Pakistan’s first innings, when Steve Finn and Moeen Ali were found wanting, they received support either from Chris Woakes or James Anderson, and thus, England never felt the pressure of fetching wickets.
Had Pakistan received the support of a fifth bowler, things might have been different, but above all, the captain of the team must be an attacking one to realize this and utilize accordingly. The theory of a four-men attack helped in Lord’s but proved inadequate in Manchester and Edgbaston.
Misbah-ul-Haq’s pragmatic captaincy
When a team plays against one of the most competitive sides in world cricket, the captain must be at his tactical best. There are no options for a pragmatic approach. Otherwise, the game might slip out of the hands in no time.
England, like Pakistan, found the going tough on the fourth day. Mohammad Amir and Yasir Shah were bowling very well to put England on the back foot, but in the final session of day 4, Misbah looked to contain Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow. Now, when a captain looks to contain rather than fetching wickets, it becomes easier for the batting team to retain their composure. In Test cricket, containment doesn’t reap a rich harvest but searching for wickets arrest the flow of runs.
Instead of setting an attacking field, Misbah went defensive, and thus, the line of attack of the bowlers was more on the defensive side – too wide of off rather than pitching it up further and getting the ball at the base of the middle and leg stump. The line of attack allowed Moeen and Bairstow to score freely and gradually, Pakistan lost their authority over the match which was not supposed to be.
Pakistan batsmen’s poor technique against the old ball
Pakistan were chasing a target of 343 on the final day. After losing Mohammad Hafeez early, Azhar Ali and Sami Aslam put up a spirited display to dent the English bowlers. Azhar Ali was dismissed while attempting an ambitious drive, whereas, caution was the order of the day and in the second session, England made the old ball swing prodigiously and the Pakistani batsmen succumbed big time.
It’s never easy to play against reverse swing, but these days, they are not impossible to counter. It’s very important to notice the shine of the ball. If the shine of the ball is directed towards midwicket, a batsman should open his stance a bit and if the shine is directed towards the cover or slip, it’s always better to judge the length and leave those balls accordingly. A batsman’s backlift should be on the lower side and he should never lose his focus from the hand of the bowler while he releases the ball.
But the Pakistani batsmen made things complex and were busy either poking or shuffling too much across the crease. Alastair Cook hinted about his intention as soon as the Pakistan chase started. He kept a fine-leg, square-leg, midwicket in a catching position and short mid-on, which indicated, he will be attacking more on the middle and leg stump, and reverse swing was on its way.
Sadly, the Pakistani pragmatic think-tank failed to read and lost the Test match.
Misbah-ul-Haq and Co have a lot to think about and rectify their mistakes before the start of the Oval Test.