The Rawalpindi Test defied precedents, expectations and the accepted limits of cricket science.
On a featureless parody of a cricket pitch that adamantly refused to deteriorate – and whose half-life was estimated by experts not far off weapons-grade plutonium – in a match mowed about 10 overs per day by the sun sticking to its programmed setting time, England cooked up one of the most astonishing Test match victories.
Even allowing for Pakistan’s weak bowling attack – they hadn’t fielded an XI with fewer collective career Test wickets since the mid-1950s when they were a new addition to cricket international – this game should have been a draw.
Almost the only possible path to victory on such a surface, in what was essentially a four and a half day game, was to score something in the region of 921 carries in 136.5 overs, to allow enough time to take 20 counters. England stuck to that plan with impressive precision, right from the start.
In the Test Match Special comment box, my stat machine was overheating from first to last. The captivating, fluctuating and unprecedented story of the Vesuvius game produced a pyroclastic flow of extraordinary numbers, starting when Zak Crawley equaled Chris Gayle’s record 14 points in the first innings of a test match.
Ben Duckett and Crawley reached 100 unbeaten in 13.4 overs, the second fastest stand in the first hundred wickets in Tests and fastest in the first innings of a Test, and the third time England have broke his national record for fastest opener 100 in the last five games. The 14.5 overs it took England to reach 100 in the second set was also in the Top 10 fastest 0-100 in Test history.
England hit 200 in 30.1 and 30.3 overs in their two innings, the third and fourth fastest a team has posted 200 in Tests (and breaking the record for first innings of a Test by 26 balls). They passed 300 in 49.2 overs, the second fewest overs needed to reach that tally – beaten only by South Africa against very weak Zimbabwe in March 2005, and the fewest in the opening innings of a Test .
They set new records for the fewest overs needed to reach 400 (in 64.0 overs, by a margin of 4.1 overs), 500 (in 74.4, breaking that record by 15.3 overs) and 600, in 90.2 overs, hammering a barely comprehensible 33.2 overs. , or 200 balls, or well over two hours of cricket, on the previous record of 123.4 overs.
The ruthless pudding of a pitch was perhaps the ideal surface to strike on like England of the Ben Stokes-Brendon McCullum era – minimal lateral movement, predictable rebound and an unresponsive ball. Nevertheless, the assault was unprecedented.
They scored at 6.73 more runs in their two innings combined, breaking their own record for the fastest run rate by a team at bat in the two innings of a Test – 5.40, set at Trent Bridge last summer, which itself broke a record that had stood since October 1902, when a legendary Australian team, on their way home from a victorious Ashes tour, hammered South Africa around Johannesburg.
In England’s consolation victory in the final Test of that 1902 Ashes, Gloucestershire’s Gilbert Jessop scored a 76-ball century – still England’s fastest, but hanging on precariously under the onslaught repeated from the Stokes team and their approach to cricket. Rawalpindi saw four new entries on the list of the 20 fastest England Test hundreds and three in the top 10, but Jessop survived two near misses from Harry Brook, to add to Jonny Bairstow’s 77-baller this summer.
Quick scoring stats fell faster than wickets in England’s Ashes collapses in Melbourne and Hobart less than a year ago. Crawley became the seventh player, and the first for England, to reach fifty under 50 balls in the two innings of a Test.
Ollie Pope had the fastest hundred by an English wicketkeeper and the fastest by an English number three, but it was only the third fastest in the innings.
Brook, who first equaled and then broke Ian Botham’s 1986 England record of 24 runs canceled in a completed Test, scored 240 runs from 181 balls in the match, securing the highest strike rate of anyone who has scored more than 200 runs in a review.
The supposedly inescapable path to an inevitable draw continued as Pakistan struck. It became the first Test in which all four openers made hundreds of first innings, and the first in which the first two innings reached 200 – both stats of which had only occurred four more times in history. of 60,000 first-class cricket matches.
According to data from CricViz, the first four days saw a lower proportion of false defensive shots (i.e. sharp and missed deliveries) than in the equivalent period of any test over the past four days. last seven years.
And yet, on the final day, the English tailors, despite their extreme lack of pace, somehow managed a victory, in a phenomenal display of skill, perseverance and ingenuity.
James Anderson – player of the match when England last played Rawalpindi, in a one-day international in December 2005 – was typically Andersonically gorgeous, harassing like a seasoned lawyer until the accused breaks down and admits to a series of crimes they weren’t even charged with. He has now taken 79 Test wickets in Asia – pace bowlers for non-Asian teams only South African great Dale Steyn has more.
The English seams won only two wickets in the first leg, then nine in the second. Had Pope or Joe Root moved in for a simple grab from the edge of Naseem Shah from the bowling of Stokes, they would have become the first seam attack since 1993 – and the second non-Asian team ever, after West Indies in 1983 – to take all 10 wickets in the fourth innings of an Asian Test.
Naseem’s sharp border took the match tally to 1,768 – the third most points ever scored in a Test, beaten only by two timeless pre-war games, both of which ended in draws when England had to embark on a long journey home. The first innings of Pakistan 579 is the third highest total by a losing team in a Test.
England thus won a Test in which they faced 54% of the number of overs their opponents received, and lost their wickets much more frequently – one every eight overs, against a Pakistani for 12.4 overs , an almost unprecedented deficit between a winning team and their opponents in a Test.
This England team challenges their opponents in unfamiliar ways, whether in their unrepentant first-hit attack with the bat, creating almost surreal pitches, or an all-out bouncer attack with the new ball – the first 10 overs of the second Pakistani. the innings were the shortest start of a test inning during the period covered by the ball tracking data.
With seven wins from eight Tests, following a one-in-17 win streak, the New England Regime are writing an enthralling chapter in cricketing history, and I hope the stats help illustrate just how much their cricket has been extraordinary.
A match that had started with a 14-run over and the fastest two-century opening partnership in Test history, ended with 11 runs scored in the last 20 overs, five wickets falling and a match no nailed gloriously unnailed.
Of all the lavish narratives generated by the unique possibilities of a test match, this was one of the most exceptional.