It is a pity there is no third Test. This one at Headingley was a mirror image of the match at Lord’s except this time England were the resounding victors as Pakistan were thoroughly outplayed. Thus the series ended at 1-1 after no more than six days’ play and it would be a brave person who could predict what would happen if they met again. No doubt England, after a thumping victory by an innings and 55 runs at Leeds, would be confident of prevailing but so they were before the first Test.
Here everything went better than anticipated for selectors as well as players and punters. There was blistering strokeplay in the morning from Jos Buttler; he reached his half-century with a pull for six off Mohammad Abbas. It is debatable whether that came from the middle of his bat but the one he hit on to the rugby ground/ building site in the middle distance off Faheem Ashraf most certainly did. It was just as well that this was Sunday, when innocent construction workers were putting their feet up at home.
Buttler was left on 80 not out and the rest of us were left wondering why convention had not been defied earlier by parachuting the white-ball king into the Test team. It is still early days in Buttler’s renaissance as a Test player but this is an experiment that must run and run.
So England had a lead of 189 and by lunch Pakistan’s three senior batsmen were back in the pavilion. Then the youngsters, with a bit of help from old Chris Woakes, took centre stage with Dom Bess taking his first three Test wickets and Sam Curran, on his 20th birthday, chipping in. It may never be as gloriously simple for this fresh-faced pair but along with the return of Buttler they have brought zest and charm to a side that was in danger of stagnating. Along the way their naivety will be exposed now and again but there is no doubt that both of them are relishing being Test cricketers.
The Pakistan batsmen were as hapless as England’s at Lord’s as they were bundled out for 134. First Azhar Ali, the senior man unable to show the way in this series, played all around a full‑length delivery from Jimmy Anderson. Then Haris Sohail punched a drive in the air from the middle of his bat to the left of mid-off. Stationed in this vicinity was Bess, who dived, stuck out a large left hand and it was there that the ball magically resided, a superb catch beyond the capacity of most English off-spinners of my experience. This is not the first time that Bess has had onlookers gasping at his capacity to conjure wickets in the field. Then Asad Shafiq was given out on review when feathering a leg-side catch off Stuart Broad so that Pakistan were creaking at 48 for three at lunch.
There were 45 minutes of tranquillity after the break when the pitch had a little doze, and Imam-ul-Haq and Usman Salahuddin were suitably watchful against the old firm. Now Root gave Bess his first bowl of the match. To his first ball Imam skipped down the track and pummelled the ball straight for four; he opted to block the last ball of the over, missed it and was lbw in the modern manner after reviewing unsuccessfully. So the irrepressible Bess had registered his first Test wicket.
Out came Sarfraz Ahmed oozing gung-ho aggression in response to an almost hopeless cause. He, too, cracked his first ball from Bess to the boundary and then crunched drives against the pacemen at the fielders before he was palpably lbw to Woakes, whose return to Test cricket was only marred by having to leave the field with “tightness to his right quad”.
Next Shadab Khan succumbed to Curran, caught at slip by Alastair Cook, a more conventional mode of dismissal than the left‑armer’s first wicket in Test cricket. Now Root could happily fiddle around with his quintet of bowlers amid minimal resistance. The batsmen swung and the fielders unerringly took their catches. Both Faheem Ashraf and Salahuddin holed out against Bess, who ended up with three for 33, and then Stuart Broad returned to mop up the tail to give him match figures of six for 66.
So are we any wiser? For many the conclusion after Lord’s was that Trevor Bayliss as coach was obviously a complete duffer on the verge of losing his job so, after this remarkable resurrection, is he now a minor genius? Of course both these conclusions are way wide of the mark. There must be relief for Root and the rest of the England camp at their first win in nine Tests. The players have atoned for that
The rehabilitation of Buttler is an obvious and intriguing plus and the blooding of the two uncluttered 20‑year‑olds, Bess and Curran, has added sparkle to the team. They have so much to learn but they are hungry to do that. They are not tailor-made solutions and they will not necessarily be regulars from here onwards; the old pros will query Curran’s lack of pace and Bess’s rawness as a bowler on flat pitches but this was hardly the day to dwell upon that.
In the meantime the sharing of 11 wickets by Broad and Anderson has provided their most eloquent argument for staying in the team together. But this is nothing more than a start to the rehabilitation of England’s Test team. There is now a two-month hiatus. Come 1 August and for the next Test the pitch (at Edgbaston) will probably be flatter and the opposition (India) more formidable, but in the intervening period we are at least spared a constant feeling of foreboding.