The Guardian: LONDON, England – Ben Stokes admitted his mind was blown after leading England to one of their finest away Test victories, not only beating Pakistan moments before sunset on the fifth day but delivering another statement about their bold new approach.
As the call to prayer echoed around Rawalpindi, night-time having descended on the city barely 10 minutes after Jack Leach had claimed the final wicket for a 74‑run win, Stokes and his players were still computing what they had achieved during England’s first Test match on Pakistani soil for 17 years.
The 1-0 series lead they take to Multan for the second Test starting on Friday was secured through a record‑breaking batting performance, a sporting declaration that set the hosts 343 to win in four sessions, and a herculean bowling display on a heartbreaking pitch. Jimmy Anderson and Ollie Robinson took four wickets apiece, with four catches for their stand‑in wicketkeeper, Ollie Pope.
“Mind-blowing,” said Stokes, having marshalled his side superbly for a seventh win in eight since taking on the England captaincy at the start of last summer. “The effort everyone’s managed to put in – I feel very honoured and in a privileged position to be able to lead these guys out on the field.”
Stokes stopped short of claiming it to be his greatest Test win in an England shirt – “one of” was as close as the all-rounder came – but that did not stop Leach, Robin to his Batman at the end of the famous Headingley heist during the 2019 Ashes. Leach, whose removal of Naseem Shah lbw in the gloaming sparked the wild celebrations, said: “For me, I think it does [trump Headingley]. I just said that to Stokesy. The way we tried to force something to happen, the way so many people contributed and it going right down to the end – it was just amazing.”
The left-arm spinner said he felt like “a fraud”, with Anderson, Robinson and Stokes sending down 66 overs of the 96.3 overs of the fourth innings. Pakistan first looked to take on the target, attacking the slow bowlers in particular, before trying to block out for the draw during the gripping final session.
Anderson, at 40, once again defied his age, taking his record-breaking wicket tally to 672 in his 176th Test, while Robinson kept thundering in for his captain – a far cry from the player who left last winter’s Ashes defeat with questions being asked over his fitness and, potentially, his England future.
On man of the match Robinson, whose two-wicket burst after tea signalled the charge, Stokes said: “He didn’t show any signs of slowing down on a hot, docile, draining day. He just kept running in and running in. Everything that has gone on in the past should be written off now – that performance, in my opinion, was his best for England.”
Yet so much of the win comes back to the aggressive and tactically nimble leadership of Stokes, plus the optimism that has coursed through the dressing room since he was paired with a like-minded head coach in Brendon McCullum.
Four centurions – Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope and Harry Brook – helped to ransack 657 runs from just 101 overs in the first innings, buying precious overs at the back end of the match. Stokes was also prepared to lose to win, with the 31-year-old once again claiming a higher cause behind this mentality.
Stokes said: “That’s what we are trying to do as a team – to make Test cricket as exciting as the shorter formats. The way the batters went out there with freedom and enjoyment allowed us to be where we were on day five. And also the willingness of the bowlers to experiment with different plans and fields. We had to be unconventional to take 20 wickets.”
England did suffer one casualty after a match that was nearly delayed by the virus that swept through the camp last week. Liam Livingstone, who was making his Test debut, will fly home after scans on a knee injury sustained in the field pointed to a two-month absence.
Top Feature Photo: The England players rush to Jack Leach after the spinner claimed the final wicket of Naseem Shah to win the first Test against Pakistan by 74 runs – Matthew Lewis/Getty Images