If the defeat at Manchester was vexatious, then the defeat at Edgbaston was hard to digest as at one point, Pakistan were in a very commanding position. But the Pakistanis, let the match slip out of their hands, and thus, before the start of the fourth Test match at The Oval, the mood in the Pakistan camp was downcast. The Pakistan batting line-up had been irreconcilable at Manchester and Edgbaston, while the sloppy fielding and Yasir Shah’s struggle added extra worries for the Pakistani think-tank. Obviously, Pakistan were not expected to stun England and level the series.
Wahab Riaz’s fiery pace jolted the English batting line-up and when Garry Ballance was dismissed, England were reeling at 110 for 5.
But Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow took the game away from Pakistan on day 1. Both of them were the beneficiaries of key reprieves early in their innings, which left Pakistan to rue and another partnership between Moeen and Chris Woakes floored Pakistan and, it seemed, they won’t be able to make a comeback after the Moeen-Bairstow-Woakes show.
At stumps, Pakistan were 3 for 1 and the critics were expecting yet another inauspicious display from the Pakistani batsmen on a track that was offering plenty of assistance for the pace bowlers. But the first hour of the second day changed the complexion of the match and put Pakistan in a commendable position.
Yasir Shah’s brilliant resistance in the first hour of day 2 set the tempo for Pakistan
Against the top teams of the world, the first session of a Test match, especially, the first hour of play, always matters. The Pakistan think-tank sent Yasir Shah as the nightwatchman and the kind of form the Pakistani tailenders had been throughout the series, Yasir was supposed to be an easy wicket. Now, an early loss of a wicket in the first hour of play automatically puts enormous pressure on the batting line-up which is struggling to get out of the lean patch. But the decision to send Yasir as the nightwatchman proved to be a masterstroke.
For one hour, Yasir weather storm of Stuart Broad and James Anderson efficiently and scored a valuable 26 runs, which not only started the day for Pakistan brightly but gave them the momentum which was much needed.
Asad Shafiq’s promotion up the order reaped a rich harvest
At the other end, Azhar Ali kept on going and never let the momentum shift in favor of England and stitched a 75-run stand with Asad Shafiq who was batting at number 4 instead of 6.
Shafiq had been another customer who was found wanting in the previous two Test matches and the decision to send him at number four was not a gamble, but a well-thought one as this position suits his style very much and struck a wonderful hundred to strengthen Pakistan’s authority over the Test match.
Never dare to write off veteran Younis Khan
Shafiq’s departure left a huge responsibility on Younis Khan to carry on the momentum and bat England out of the game. In the previous three Test matches, Younis Khan’s dance at the crease and poor shot selection had been criticized, but at The Oval, he was in a different zone.
He played the ball late, went behind the ball, and used his feet masterfully to essay yet another comeback innings. Younis Khan scripted a brilliant 218 which bolstered Pakistan’s innings big time and shut the mouth of those critics who had written off Younis a million times.
Mohammad Amir’s resistance with the bat
Throughout the Test match, the Pakistani tail was reluctant to fight and this hurt Pakistan badly at Edgbaston. But at The Oval, the Pakistani tailenders decided to change the mood and dished out a stubborn resistance which surely had made Hanif Mohammad proud in heaven.
After Yasir Shah, Mohammad Amir showed his capabilities with the bat. He defended so well and his calm presence at the crease provided the perfect foil to Younis’ composure who could not have scored his double ton had he not received support from Amir. Both Amir and Younis stitched a partnership of 117 runs for the ninth wicket and the game was almost over for England.
Set an attacking field to encourage the bowlers
Misbah-ul-Haq’s field setting had been the subject of criticism in the previous three Test matches, but he got things right as soon as England’s second innings started. Misbah maneuvered the field very well and hardly was in a defensive mode. In the last session of day 3, he engaged three slips, a leg slip, a catching man at short mid-off and short leg for Amir, and crowed the fielders around the bat while Yasir was bowling.
Such a fieldset, motivated the bowlers to bowl with aggressive intent, and immediately England were four down at the stumps on day 3.
Yasir Shah loves to bowl in London
Misbah’s attacking mindset didn’t change on day 4 and he kept on attacking with his premium bowler Yasir Shah.
Yasir changed his game-plan a bit – he varied his pace a lot and the quicker ones hit the deck without turning and hit the batsmen’s pad like a missile. His line of attack varied in between middle-and-off and middle stump and utilized the footmarks intelligently like Shane Warne to sink England.
It’s never easy to bounce back after digesting back-to-back humiliating defeats, but when the team is Pakistan; either you can expect them to script another comical show or an exhibition like the cornered Tigers.
The Pakistan team at The Oval were the cornered Tigers. It was a magnificent win and the perfect tribute to the late Hanif Mohammad.
Misbah-ul-Haq and his men worked very hard to gift his nation such a special turnaround on Independence Day.