England have made history by whitewashing Pakistan in their own backyard. The mantra of all-out aggression introduced by captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum, which had succeeded in spectacular fashion at home, reaped dividends in alien conditions in Pakistan as well, who suffered an all-time low in their fortunes. However, how did such a remarkable result come about?
Bazball made its intentions clear from the first day – the first over itself, in fact – of the three-Test series. Naseem Shah’s first six balls were taken for 14 runs by England openers Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley, on way to a record score of 506/4 at stumps on Day 1, that too in just 75 overs.
England were always going to play this way, but what went wrong for the hosts?
With their pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi out injured, Pakistan went into the series with an inexperienced bowling attack. Left-arm spinner Nauman Ali was the most experienced bowler at their disposal with 15 Tests behind him.
A Test series 17 years in the making 🇵🇰🏴
We came to win, we came to entertain.
Thank you to the people of Pakistan and everyone @TheRealPCB for your wonderful hospitality 👏#PAKvENG pic.twitter.com/v4045Cw6tL
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) December 20, 2022
The England batting line-up blew away the Pakistan attack on Day 1 of the first Test in Rawalpindi. Haris Rauf, Mohammad Ali and leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood were all making their Test debuts. Naseem Shah, with just 14 Tests under his belt, was the leader of the pack compared to 40-year-old Jimmy Anderson with more than 170 Tests behind him.
It was the most docile of pitches, but England went about it with the sole intention of forcing a result and succeeded with less than 10 minutes left on the final day.
Injuries to Rauf and Naseem after the first game meant that Pakistan had the option of going back to the more experienced Mohammad Abbas and Hasan Ali for the second Test in Multan.
However, the hosts included young mystery spinner Abrar Ahmed and the 24-year-old had a dream debut with seven wickets on Day 1. But the rest of the bowling had nothing much to offer. Mahmood conceded 63 runs in 7.4 in the first innings while seamers Mohammad Ali and Faheem Ashraf looked toothless.
With the series lost after two games, Nauman was brought for the Karachi Test. Bowling all-rounder Mohammad Wasim made his debut as well.
In total, Pakistan gave debuts to five bowlers in the series. Every time the English batsmen took the attack to the opposition, they looked ruffled, and skipper Babar Azam had no option but to turn to Abrar.
The first Test team to ever win a clean sweep in Pakistan 🌟
🇵🇰 #PAKvENG 🏴 pic.twitter.com/cz8cQhyFln
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) December 20, 2022
The Pakistan think tank seemed confused, and went for half-baked all-rounders instead of specialists.
After the loss in the first Test, Pakistan chose Ashraf as a bowling all-rounder. The 28-year-old averages 28.04 with the bat and has 24 wickets from 16 games.
He had no impact in Multan with the ball, sending down nine overs in the entire game without a wicket. With the bat, he scored 22 and 10.
[email protected]_ walks off the field one last time
Congratulations on a fantastic career 👏#PAKvENG | #UKSePK pic.twitter.com/3GHsaiwNwX
— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) December 20, 2022
In Karachi, Babar and coach Saqlain Mushtaq picked Mohammad Wasim Jr. instead of a specialist fast bowler. Wasim picked one wicket in the game while being taken for a lot of runs, and didn’t contribute much with the bat either.
Similar selections were made on the batting side. Agha Salman, who could bowl a bit, was preferred to the experience of former skipper Sarfaraz Khan, who was in the squad while the experienced Fawad Alam was nowhere in the reckoning.
Babar and newcomer Saud Shakeel were the stand-out batters for Pakistan in the series. The skipper scored 348 runs at an average of 58 and Shakeel scored 346 at 57.
The rest of the batting order struggled. Abdullah Shafique, after scoring a ton on a flat Pindi wicket, went off the boil similar to fellow opener Imam-ul-Haq.
Azhar Ali looked like yesterday’s man in the series. He scored 112 runs at an average of 28 in the series and retired after the series.
Pakistan’s T20I talisman Mohammad Rizwan did not turn up in the series at all. He batted as high as number five on some occasions and made 141 runs at an average of 23.50.
The tail hardly provided any resistance. The moment the likes of Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Jack Leach put some pressure, they crumbled.
The collapse in the final session of the Pindi Test, when a draw was the most likely result and even a win was an outside possibility, showed the state of the Pakistan batting.
Similar capitulations followed in Multan and Karachi as well.
Ben Stokes- an inspirational leader
Pakistan’s shortcomings were made all the more evident by Ben Stokes’ brilliant captaincy. His sole aim has been to win a Test from the first ball, and he does whatever necessary to reach that objective, be it going after the bowling from the start, employing a short-ball barrage on a benign pitch, or out-of-the-box team selection or bowling changes. The courage to take risks at every possible juncture made something out of nothing in every game of the series.
Rehan Ahmed takes 5️⃣ wickets as we are dismissed for 216, setting a target of 167.#PAKvENG | #UKSePK pic.twitter.com/O8SpKgOvIr
— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) December 19, 2022
Former England skipper Michael Atherton said after the series win in Multan that “He (Stokes) has transformed England’s Test match team. He has transformed and galvanised an outfit with a few changes, and that is the measure of leadership. One was to score quickly and therefore give yourselves plenty of time to take those wickets.”
Backing 18-year-old leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed with a debut in the final Test was one such brave call. And sending him at number three in the second innings whilst chasing 167 runs, after the youngster had taken five wickets, shows the kind of captain Stokes has been in his short period at the helm so far.