Great escape slips through England’s fingers in Dubai

Pakistan take 1-0 lead after Adil Rashid’s concentration breaks with line in view

Pakistan spinner Yasir Shah  celebrates with team-mates Sarfraz Ahmed and Wahab Riaz after dismissing England’s Adil Rashid  to win the second Test  at Dubai Cricket Stadium. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Pakistan spinner Yasir Shah celebrates with team-mates Sarfraz Ahmed and Wahab Riaz after dismissing England’s Adil Rashid to win the second Test at Dubai Cricket Stadium. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

 

In October 1952, Pakistan beat India on a matting wicket in Lucknow to record their first Test victory. Sixty three years on to the very day, in the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, the sun already low over the Gulf and the playing area long since in shadow, they completed their 125th, beating England by 178 runs.

If it was a victory that had been expected ever since they declared their second innings with a lead of 496, 144 overs to bowl and the prospect of a fifth-day deteriorating pitch, then they were made to work incredibly hard for it.

There were still 40 deliveries of the match remaining, and Pakistan were starting to push anxiously where before they had been relaxed. Then the legspinner Yasir Shah, fingers refreshed, sent down a leg break to his England counterpart Adil Rashid.

For more than 56 overs, 171 balls to that point, Rashid had batted with a skill, judgment, discretion and maturity that totally belied his second-ball aberration in the first innings. No one had read the spin and made such accurate judgment of what to play and what to leave as had he. Then, for no accountable reason, his concentration wavered. There were men crouched round the bat, seven of them in addition to the keeper, a chattering, vibrant crowd, waiting to pounce on any chance.

What did Rashid see in the delivery? Four runs? He had already been turning down runs to protect the last man, Jimmy Anderson, from the pace and urgency of Wahab Riaz. He could have blocked defensively, but he chose to play a languid cover drive. The shot was in the air, though, and picked out the single man in the covers who took the catch and flung the ball triumphantly.

The bowler ran through in celebration, executed a swallow dive and his team-mates piled on top of him. England were all out for 312, the highest score they have ever made in the final innings in Asia.

It was a sad end for Rashid, who had batted magnificently for his 61, supported for a long time by Mark Wood, who made 29 but, crucially, stayed for 95 balls. Their ninth-wicket partnership together, lasted 29 overs and two balls, England’s longest in Test cricket, beating that of Frank Woolley and Tich Freeman at Sydney in 1924.

It will be small consolation, but it was redolent of a fighting spirit, and a capacity to learn on the hoof, that characterises Alastair Cook’s team. There are things wrong within the side when it comes to playing in these conditions, but none should doubt their competitive nature.

Already their second innings, lasting for 137 overs and three balls, was the second longest fourth innings ever played by an England team in Asia, and just 16 balls shy of being the longest, achieved when Michael Vaughan’s seven-and-a-half-hour century helped them survive 140 overs against Sri Lanka at Kandy in 2003.

By lunchtime, with England 187 for six, the game had seemed up. Joe Root, on whose capacity to play a long innings survival had seemed to depend, had been taken at slip off Zulfiqar Babar’s left-arm spin having added 12 to his overnight 59, Jonny Bairstow had been bowled trying to whip a googly from Yasir through square leg, and Jos Buttler, beleaguered fellow that he is at present, was caught at slip, also off Yasir, although no disgrace in succumbing to a magnificent delivery.

Now, though, the rearguard really started. Ben Stokes took 66 balls over his 13 but appeared to have suddenly, in a lightbulb moment, worked out how to play the spinners, by hanging on the back foot unless he could smother the ball. He was then caught at slip off the pace of Imran Khan instead, much to his chagrin. There were still 55 overs to go.

By now Rashid had played himself in, and was joined by Stuart Broad, who played sensibly, his batting gradually returning to the standards he had before he was hit on the nose against India. So his 30 took 42 more balls from the Pakistan quota before a superb piece of bowling from Wahab, driving him back with the short ball and then spearing the coup de grace yorker through, accounted for him.

Wood was exemplary, scarcely looking in trouble, attacking Wahab at first, much to the evident disgruntlement of the bowler unused to such effrontery, but then, with the encouragement of Rashid, and the realisation that, just perhaps, there was a chance of seeing things out,began to get his head down.

The pair were still together when the match entered the last 15 overs, and almost three more had been used up when he pushed forward to Zulfiqar, who got one to turn and bounce a little out of the rough, the edge carrying low to Mohammad Hafeez at second slip.

Pakistan sensed the end, but they still had to get past Anderson, a man used to last-ditch survival. Last year, against Sri Lanka at Headingley, he had batted through 20 overs and one ball with Moeen Ali only to fall to the penultimate delivery of the match. And back in 2009, he and Monty Panesar had survived 69 deliveries to thwart Australia in the first Test at Cardiff. This time there were 67 deliveries remaining. Anderson did his part.

(Guardian service)

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