A Woakes and Buttler special gives England a memorable win

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08 Aug 2020 | 10:00 AM
authorSomesh Agarwal

A Woakes and Buttler special gives England a memorable win

Day 4: The pair added 139 runs to guide their team to a three-wicket win

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End of the Test
England 277/7 (82.1 overs, won by 3 wickets)

It is a shame to play such a Test without spectators. After what Ben Stokes did last year, Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler have now given England fans a performance worthy of flaunting for time to come.

"To chase this total down, I think we've got to do it pretty positively. You can't just bat out there for a long time and not expect to have one with your name on it”. These were Woakes’ words at the end of the third day’s play. In a sport filled with clichés and generic conversations, what Woakes said is not out of the box. But if there was ever an example of walking the talk, it was his partnership with Buttler today.

“England are playing a batsman short”.  This was a common opinion among the experts ahead of this Test. Contributing to such assertions was Woakes’ average of around 12 since his Test century in 2018. Add to it Buttler, whose inconsistent form has resulted in a growing list of critics. Thus, after the dismissals of Joe Root and Ben Stokes, Pakistan’s victory seemed imminent.  Showing their mettle with the bat, a counterattacking Woakes and Buttler scripted a memorable win for their side.

The duo stitched a 139-run partnership: highest ever for England for sixth wicket or lower in the fourth innings. After adding 50 runs in the eight overs before Tea, they continued the momentum, adding 46 runs in the first 10 overs after the interval.

In an over from Naseem Shah, Buttler pulled him for a single and Woakes hit him twice through the off side for two boundaries. Both completed their half-centuries in the process.

As the target seemed nearer, the scoring rate dropped. Contributing to that was Yasir Shah who was relentless and kept his side in the hunt. Generating chances for his team he once had Woakes edging on the defence but the ball fell short of second slip. A googly to Buttler zipped off the surface and bounced high to hit him on the chest. 

After completing a hundred run stand in less than 20 overs, they played with patience, adding 28 in the next 11.4 overs. Playing with the field, the pair ensured no maiden over throughout their partnership. 

Fours overs before the arrival new ball, Buttler rocked back to hit Shadab Khan over the deep mid-wicket fence to bring the target to under thirty. Having executed the shot well throughout his innings, Buttler missed the reverse sweep off a Yasir delivery that drifted in and hit him on the full. Promoted after his new-found form, Stuart Broad added an important seven before missing a sweep off Yasir. 

England needed 13 when the new ball arrived. An eight-run over from Shaheen Afridi, that included a no-ball, ended a chance of any miracle.  An edge past the second slip by Woakes in the first ball of Afridi’s next over gave England a victory to savour.

In the hindsight, Pakistan could have been better with their strategy. Woakes averages 12.5 and has six dismissals off the bouncers. One wonders why Pakistan did not try that even once in the initial phase of his innings. 

Going by the ease with which he and Buttler batted, one can also question Pakistan’s batting tactics in their second innings. Such introspection can now serve them only while planning for the next Test.

As for England, though this victory came in an empty stadium. Though it was not against Australia. But like Headingley last year, Old Trafford in 2020 now finds a place in moments of glory for English cricket.

Evening Session
England 167/5 (53 overs, need 110 runs to win)

It is hard to judge a session, a third of which went in a different direction than the rest. The approach adopted by Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes in the last eight overs has stolen the limelight of Pakistan’s bowling effort from earlier in the session.

After Joe Root and Dom Sibley started with caution, adding 26 runs in the first 13 overs, the session had Pakistan written all-over it. Taking three wickets in every 10 run interval and the fourth one after eleven runs, Pakistan were flying high.

Sibley spent around three overs padding away at deliveries from Yasir Shah bowled from round the wicket. As he changed the angle to over the wickets, Sibley threw caution to the wind to a pitched up delivery. An attempt for an expansive drive had him offer a chance to first slip and an opening for Pakistan. 

Being the quickest bowler on a slow, low wicket, Naseem Shah has bowled his heart out in the Test. Into the fourth over of his spell to a settled Root, the first three balls were gun barrel straight but around Root’s off-stump. Root negotiated these with ease. The fourth one moved a fraction away, taking Root’s outside edge to a regulation chance at first slip. Relieved than ecstatic, Naseem chose to celebrate away from the huddle looking up at the skies, probably remembering his mother.

Rarely does a player gets two ‘unplayables’ in two consecutive innings. This happening to two batsmen from the same side is rarer. But such is the quality of this Pakistan bowling attack. 

A wrong one from Yasir bounced off the rough outside Stokes’ off-stump, kissing his gloves. Even with the bounce, Rizwan collected the ball with not much hassle. If England are not out-batted or out-bowled in this Test, they are certainly out-kept. 

Ollie Pope’s dismissal was similar to that in the first innings, albeit to a different bowler. A ball from around the wicket by Shaheen Afridi jumped off a good length. The rising ball hit Pope’s gloves, who was playing forward, and lobbed to Shadab Khan at gully.

With no other option other than to attack, Woakes and Buttler went on the offensive. Creaming Afridi on the offside and sweeping Yasir on the leg, they stitched a fifty runs stand in the next eight overs.

As the target stays above a 100, it is still not panic mode for Pakistan. If these two stay for another eight overs after Tea, panic is not far away.

Morning Session
England 55/1 (22 overs, need 222 runs to win)

After a mini horror show in the first 10 minutes with the ball, England will be more cheerful after their effort with the bat so far. The concern for Pakistan would be the lack of seam movement on offer for their pacers.

Hunted like sitting ducks in the first innings, Dom Sibley and Rory Burns batted with better control, helped by a subtle tweak in technique. To counter for Mohammad Abbas’ movement off the seam, Sibley decided to bat outside his crease. This led to a fielding position not seen often: a silly mid-off against a pacer, as the keeper decided to stay back. 

Burns limited the across movement of his front-foot to avoid getting into the awful positions he finds himself in against the moving ball. A change that he should consider making permanent.

On a hot day, a dry surface required Pakistan's pacers to think out of the box. Both Shaheen Afridi and Abbas tried many tricks. From going wide of the crease often to bowl from both sides of the wicket, they tried to create different angles.

In the only bright moment for Pakistan with the ball in the session, Abbas brought one into Burns from around the wicket that hit the flap of his back-foot. A decision that could have gone either way went in the favour of the fielding side.

Sibley along with Joe Root survived the rest of the session. While Naseem Shah did test them with an odd jaffa, the duo looked comfortable against him and spin. Bowling five overs in the session, Yasir Shah was erratic and failed to find a rhythm. The duo milked him for singles while Root collected a boundary off a sweep.

Though yet to make the ball talk in this innings, Yasir was the highlight of the session. Taking the last two wickets in 16 balls this morning was ideal for England. Giving away 32 runs in the process was nothing but a nightmare.

Before the England bowlers could get the blood in their veins flowing, Yasir went all-out to push them out of sleep. Batting to make every ball count, he pulled the second ball of the day from Jofra Archer, who operated at below 85 miles per hour to start the day, for four. Off the next, which was a bouncer too, he top-edged an attempted upper-cut for another four.

Stuart Broad received a similar treatment with a worse result. His length balls were heaved and slogged for a four and a six by Yasir. He collected 21 runs in 9 before nicking an attempted slog to Jos Buttler.

Naseem Shah and Mohammad Abbas too enjoyed themselves as they added 11 runs in the next four balls. Naseem showed no respect for the holder of 500+Test wickets as he smashed Broad over his head on the first ball. A slower ball from Archer ended the carnage.

In 16 balls, Pakistan stretched their lead from 244 to 276. The history is against England. Only once has a team chased a target of 250+ at Old Trafford. It was England under Michael Vaughan in against New Zealand in 2008. Pakistan has not lost a Test defending 250+ since 1999. 

With the kind of attack that Pakistan have, England need a courageous effort to deny themselves a defeat in the first Test of a series yet again.

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