Abrar Ahmed takes seven wickets on his debut as Pakistan battle back against England

Half-centuries for Pope and Duckett but day belongs to 24-year-old mystery spinner

At the end of a breakneck opening day in Multan there was still only one story in town, Abrar Ahmed, a 24-year-old mystery spinner with the air of a junior accountant, announcing his arrival at Test level with a remarkable set of numbers on debut.

Pakistan had closed on 107 for two from 28 overs in reply to England’s slightly madcap 281 all out from 51.4, the red kites gliding and swooping overhead before sunset as Babar Azam delivered a commanding 61 not out in the final session. For a crowd that swelled after Friday prayers, this knock was as sweet as the local jalebi.

Yet folks were also still computing what had earlier transpired, Abrar having claimed figures of seven for 114 from 22 overs, including a five-wicket haul before lunch and some collector’s items among them. When Abrar bowled Ben Stokes for 30 in the afternoon, it left the England captain in a state of shock and provided the latest reminder of the talent which bubbles up from the nursery of tape-ball cricket in Pakistan.

It was on the streets of Karachi where Abrar first honed his craft, a mixture of leg-breaks and carrom balls that are flicked out from the front of the hand. And with just his fifth ball in Test cricket this bespectacled young spinner offered the first sign that England, so irresistible in Rawalpindi, may find things trickier 300 miles further south.


Zak Crawley was his initial mark here, negotiating the first four balls of the ninth over of the day with minimal fuss, only for Abrar’s next offering, a dipping, fizzy delivery from the fingertips – a googly, in essence – to scoot through a yawning gate and into the stumps. Babar, who usually gives little away, was visibly delighted at his new toy.

This delivery, plus the newly-arrived Ollie Pope reverse-sweeping his first ball for four, set the tone for a breathless morning in which England continued their aggression and yet saw regular holes punched in the hull of the goodship “Bazball”. By lunch, England were 180 for five from 33 overs and Abrar was already on the honours board.

“The sweep is my forward defence,” said Ben Duckett after stumps, the opener having raided 63 from 49 balls as part of a dizzying stand of 79 with Pope. And yet this defence was twice beaten by Abrar in the 19th over, Duckett overturning an initial lbw decision thanks to a smidgen of glove only to fall this way on review five balls later.

Umpiring was clearly something of a trial out in the middle, England’s array of switch hits and reverse sweeps not helping messrs Marais Erasmus and Aleem Dar. It took another review to send Joe Root on his way for eight, Abrar’s leg-break pitching just in line before striking the right-hander on the back leg.

On the other hand, Pope’s demise for a frisky 60 required no such deliberation, a reverse-sweep top-edged to backward point, likewise Harry Brook holing out to give the newcomer his fifth. The statisticians soon worked out that Alf Valentine, the great West Indian, was the only previous spinner to achieve this feat on the first morning of a debut, Old Trafford 1950 the Test in question and England again the bamboozled.

Where the response back then was a doughty rearguard from Trevor Bailey and Godfrey Evans, here it was more unbridled aggression, Stokes and Will Jacks going on the attack in the afternoon until Abrar added them to his stash. But for Mark Wood crashing 36 the tourists would have been deep in the mire, leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood claiming the final three wickets amid another flurry off heaves.

It meant all 10 wickets had fallen to spin – not a huge surprise, given the dry surface prepared and Pakistan loading up their attack accordingly. And so while Jimmy Anderson and Jack Leach struck late on for England, and Wood hit 156km/h during a four-over burst, there was a nagging sense the hosts have selected the better balance. – Guardian