As just about no one anticipated, England won an extraordinary match, a classic in camera, by three wickets. Needing 277 for victory they slumped to 117 for five and the pitch seemed to have acquired the qualities of a snake pit. Then a sublime partnership of 139 between Jos Buttler, roundly condemned for his keeping in this match, and Chris Woakes, peculiarly ignored by his captain in the field on Friday, united to transform the game. No one could ignore their qualities anymore.
As ever there was a little flurry of wickets as England homed in on their target. Buttler departed with 21 runs still required, lbw to Yasir Shah. The promoted Stuart Broad went the same way when four runs were required but an outside edge through the slip cordon from the bat of the heroic Woakes prompted the players to bump elbows after an epic contest that has justified all the peculiar hurdles the pandemic has required everyone involved to overcome.
There was little cause for optimism when Buttler and Woakes were united. The English innings, which had reached the dizzy heights of 86 for one, was in freefall. The last two batsmen to be dismissed, pivotal players in Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope (his standing is on the rise), had received hellish deliveries, which had leapt from a dusty dry surface, the likes of which have often been seen in Karachi in the past. A famous victory was on the cards – but not for England.
Such deliveries and such a dire situation encourages freedom for the batsmen so who better to be at the crease than Buttler and – as we soon concluded – Woakes?
Buttler announced himself with two sumptuous cover drives off Yasir; no one had been able to attack him on a turning pitch like that until now. Then he unfurled some sweeps, reverse and orthodox, with remarkable power, shots that have been honed on the turning tracks of the IPL. Would this be any more than an unavailing display of defiance?
Woakes was equally fluent from the start of the innings. How to explain his barren trot in recent Tests? Until this match he had not gone beyond six in nine Test innings, not a reassuring statistic for a No 7. His cover-driving was as exquisite as Buttler’s, whether he was facing leg-spinners or seamers and like Buttler he recognised the virtues of an uncluttered mind at the crease. He has never timed the ball better than this.
It mattered little to the two soft spoken Englishmen who was bowling; the pitch seemed to doze off as the strokeplay became ever more assured.
Azhar Ali was quick to spread the field against Buttler, all too wary of what he might do. Not until England became the favourites with about 60 runs required did these two rein themselves in when confronted with the alarming realisation that this was now a match for England to lose.
Eventually two unsuccessful sweeps from Buttler and Broad produced lbws for Yasir but Woakes, the most self-effacing all-rounder England have had for a long, long time, was still there at the end.
For nearly all of this match England had been losing it. That was even the case in the first 10 minutes of the day.
England polished off the Pakistan tail in 16 deliveries, the only problem being that 32 runs had been added in that time, most of them off various parts of the bat off Yasir, who swung merrily and to good effect. Eleven came from Jofra Archers’s first over; Broad was walloped for four and six before Yasir was caught behind. Those 32 runs had swung the pendulum further in Pakistan’s favour.
For the rest of that morning session the pitch behaved decorously enough. Dominic Sibley dug in and it was not until Mohammad Abbas switched to around the wicket against Rory Burns that Pakistan made some headway. Burns was lbw to a delivery that jagged in to him. Progress throughout the rest of the morning was relatively sedate and steady; Root was sharp, hawk-eyed, playing everything on its merits and England had advanced to 55 for one by lunch.
The second session was livelier. Thirty-one more runs had been added and Yasir had even retreated by bowling around the wicket to Sibley; then he switched back to over, Sibley drove and edged to slip and Yasir gave the impression this was all part of a very cunning plan.
Then Root received a fine delivery from Naseem Shah and the edge was held by Babar Azam at slip; the decibel level out in the middle went up another notch.
Only now did the batsmen feel that sense of betrayal, stemming from a capricious surface that suddenly gives the striker, however skilful, no chance. Stokes received a delivery from Yasir that leapt towards his throat and he could not avoid the ball brushing his glove before being superbly held by Mohammad Rizwan behind the stumps. And there was nothing Pope could do with the lifter he received from Shaheen Afridi from around the wicket. It ballooned from his glove to Shadab Khan in the gully.
Pope may never receive two such devilish deliveries in a Test match throughout what should be a very long career. And he may never play in such a remarkable Test match.