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The English pacers failed to hit the right length……

945 wickets between them with 591 of them coming at home wasn’t enough for James Anderson and Stuart Broad to hit the right lengths to trouble Pakistan in their first innings at Lord’s. More than a handful in these conditions, the two seamers were undoubtedly disciplined in their approach.

Pakistan ended day one on 50/1 after bowling England out for 174 and a large chunk of the credit goes to Pakistan’s seam attack hitting an immaculate length as against their English counterparts.

With the ball moving about when pitched fuller, Pakistan’s seamers ensured they kept the ball in and around the fullish length. According to CricViz, they landed 41% of the balls in a full-length range in the first seven overs. Pit against England’s own seamers and the statistics are heavily skewed in Pakistan’s favour. The England bowlers wasted the new ball, managing to land just 27% balls on a fullish length and as such allowing Pakistan batsmen to dictate terms.

Pakistan’s seamers were also much more accurate and gained great seam movement and swing. The global average for seam movement is 0.57° as per CricViz but Pakistan managed to go well past that, a threatening 0.73°.

In fact, England bowlers’ inability to hit a full length isn’t new. Since the beginning of 2016, their bowlers, despite common notion, has been guilty of bowling short in the first 10 overs. They have an average of just 25% full balls in first 10 overs since this time period, among the worst when compared to other Test nations.

On day 2, England seamers, Anderson in particular, seemed intent on matching Pakistan’s fast bowlers, keeping it fuller but by then the sheen had faded from the new ball and his full balls proved to be fodder for Pakistan batsmen prepared to fight it out in the middle. Despite being labelled one of the best swing bowlers, Anderson hasn’t consistently landed it full with the new ball.

On day 2, they eked out more false strokes from Pakistan batsmen but there was clearcut lack of incision in the attack, so much so that before long Joe Root decided to use Mark Wood and Ben Stokes to target the Asian batsmen with short balls.

Wood turned into Mitchell Johnson mode, coming around the wicket to bounce the Pakistan batsmen. There was a logic behind the move given that Wood has had success with this tactic before. But the experiment came down like a pack of cards the moment he kept aiming for the heavens with his short balls. Balls flew way over the head of the batsmen as the ball grew older and batting got easier than ever.

To compound matters for England, Ben Stokes, a regular short ball exploiter, banged it into the surface. However, when you stick to the method, you either have to give it your all or don’t do at all. Stokes bowled 33% of his deliveries short (as per CricViz) a considerable number but personally, it was the least percentage of short balls he had bowled since the Sri Lankan series in 2016. That said, he did manage to keep the batsmen on their toes, unlike Wood.

This virtually meant England were good in patches but unfortunately peaked at the wrong times. Anderson and Broad wasted the new ball with short balls before switching fuller and getting more accurate while Wood and Stokes banged it in short, one too short and the other not consistently short.   

Usually, Pakistan, sans Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, would have been bowling practice for England’s seamers. But on a surface tailor-made for these very pacers, Pakistan led the way with accuracy, swing and seam. Their attack boasted of contrasting strengths and managed to stick to their plans better.

Dom Bess, England’s lone spinner, supposedly the one to hold one end up while the seamers attacked, failed miserably with Pakistan batsmen using their feet against him. Moeen Ali, for all the criticism aimed at him, was a superb bowler in these conditions over the past few years, making for a perfect foil to their battery of seamers. Ali was missed as Bess lacked the control to keep Pakistan’s inexperienced batting line-up in the crease.

While Stuart Broad and Mark Wood managed to be on top with their pace, there was evident lack of zip in the English attack. Some shoddy catching further complicated England’s day as Pakistan made them pay dearly.

Even with a less than convincing middle-order, the visitors managed to get 179 ahead of England, a lead which could well decide this Test match. If England bowlers need a dose of adrenaline before they come out to bowl again (if they don’t lose by an innings) they needn’t look far away for inspiration.

The scintillating pair of Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Abbas were immaculate with their channels and swung the ball late. Hasan Ali complimented the two, bringing in energy and extra bounce to the table. England, on the other hand, were drab, almost boring to the point they threatened to usurp their own Ashes performance. Can they turn it around as they have so often done at home? A good first step would be to find the right length.

 

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