After reaching what could yet be its pinnacle during a historic first day of the series, Bazball is expected to face it’s sternest examination to-date, ahead of England’s second Test match against Pakistan at Multan Cricket Stadium starting 4pm tomorrow (AEDT).
Ben Stokes’s supercharged England team have managed to contrive eight positive results out of eight Tests, winning seven of them, but while even the death of a monarch during the Oval match and one of the world’s flattest pitches in Rawalpindi could not stop them pushing on to victory, they may meet their match this week in the form of Multan’s fog and smog.
Stokes was not having it, of course.
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“We might have to get even more adventurous,” the England captain said.
A member of the groundstaff posted a video of the stadium, situated some 40 minutes from the city centre, at about 9am showing the field and stands shrouded in fog. Forecasters are predicting that visibility may not improve until 11am each day, an hour after the scheduled start.
Sunset in Pakistan’s 7th largest city, at about 5.15pm, is slightly later than it was at Rawalpindi, but such is the smog that it is expected the light will fade early and won’t be rescued by the floodlights at a stadium that has not staged a Test for 16 years.
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An incoming flight due to land at midday yesterday (Wednesday) was delayed by four hours because of fog at the city’s international airport.
After his daring but perfectly timed declaration and aggressive field tactics allowed England to claim a “special” win, around 10 minutes before bad light was called in a crazy finish to the first Test, Stokes said he may need to be even more inventive with his captaincy.
“We might see actually in this Test, if it does pan out the way that it could potentially with the late start and early finish,” he said.
“We could end up having only 300-350 overs in the Test match. We might have to get even more adventurous with what we do. We’ll see…”
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In what commentator Nasser Hussain proclaimed was “one of the greatest Test match victories you will ever see”, England’s exciting 74-run win over Pakistan in the first Test in Rawalpindi was their best yet under the new management pairing of head coach Brendon McCullum and captain Stokes, installed in May this year.
The win — giving England a 1-0 lead in the three-Test series — embellished England’s newly adopted “Bazball” cricket, an aggressive style taken from the nickname of McCullum.
A result looked unlikely, if not impossible, after both teams combined to make 1236 runs in the first innings – and a record 1768 runs collectively across the five days – on one of the flattest wickets in recent history, before Stokes dangled the carrot-like target of 343 runs for Pakistan to win in a possible 130 overs to push for a result.
“If you get a good amount of time out of a Test match, I’ll always be trying to plan and talk to Baz [Brendon McCullum, the head coach] about ways in which we can try and force a result, either way,” Stokes said.
“You might see something even more out there than you’ve seen here. I might declare without batting one day, who knows? If the chance presents itself again to do something similar [to Rawalpindi], the lads will have a lot of confidence knowing we were able to do it there.”
Former Australian captain Allan Border wasn’t surprised at all by England’s record shattering success with the bat in the first Test.
“I suspected that that was going to be the case with the batting line-up that England do possess,” Border told Fox Cricket’s The Follow-On podcast.
“They‘re all ‘goers’ and sometimes it looks like they’re playing within themselves in Test cricket and holding themselves back, rather than just going out there and playing that David Warner ‘see it and hit it’ style.
Border was most impressed by the Pom’s ability to score such a mountain of runs so quickly without taking too many unnecessary and ill-advised risks.
“When you get on a wicket like that in Rawalpindi … I watched bits of it and there was no slogging really involved. It was just playing your shots, hitting the gaps. Plus the outfield was so quick and it was a bit of a postage stamp-sized boundaries where every now and then they decided to just flick a six,” he said.
“It was quite incredible – and good on England. It‘s a great advertisement for Test cricket because the game did ebb and flow. The first innings was like a relentless barrage against the bowlers and then they fought back a little bit in the second innings, which is not necessarily the worst thing for Test match cricket. You don’t necessarily want raging turners or green seamers that go two-and-a-half days. It just showed the game can be played at a rollicking pace over five days and be entertaining.
“It just shows what can happen if you free the brain up a little bit and just play your shots on merit.”
Asked if the aggressive approach was something England could sustain long-term, particularly against Australia in The Ashes, Border said: “I think it’s sustainable, as long as the pitch cooperates.
“In other words, if you’ve got a pretty flat batting track for the first three and a half days, yes. If the pitch is produced as a raging turner – like India have done in recent times, particularly against us – or you get on those green seamer-type pitches that you can produce all over the place … I‘m not sure that it is sustainable.
“You might get away with it in one of five Test matches in those conditions, but generally speaking when the ball is doing so much, you‘ve got to have a bit more respect for the bowling and the pitch and the way it’s playing.
“Certainly on a very flat, batsman-friendly surface to start with, yes, you can get away with that in a more sustained manner. But it just depends on the surface really. Whether it‘s sustainable on the green seamer? We might get a chance to see that when we get into the Ashes.”
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England (currently sitting in 7th) only play four more Tests prior to the conclusion of the current ICC World Test Championship cycle and will only have five more opportunities to finetune their agressive new style in Test match cricket prior to hosting the Aussies for a home Ashes series in June, meaning that a significantly shortened or possibly cancelled second Test against the Pakistanis due to the foggy conditions would be a devastating blow.
Problems with fog and smog are not unknown in the industrialised cities of northern Pakistan and India. Fog once led to the loss of all five days of a Test in Faisalabad, about 150 miles northeast of Multan, and England Tests in Mohali and Delhi have also been hampered by fog, although it did not stop Tony Greig’s team winning at the old Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in 1976-77.
When Sri Lanka played a Test in Delhi in 2017, so bad was the air quality that bowlers vomited, fielders wore face masks and oxygen cylinders were installed in the visitors’ dressing room. As a consequence Sri Lanka called on the ICC to deploy air quality meters. That suggestion was not taken up, with the onus instead left on match officials to work with teams and their medical staffs to determine what constitutes acceptable playing conditions.
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The reason Lahore is not being used as a venue for this series is because of concerns over smog there at this time of year. Multan is a challenge on a number of fronts: in terms of its annual rainfall of about 175mm, it is among the driest venues on the Test circuit, on a par with Karachi, which hosts the final Test next week. Inzamam-ul-Haq, whose home city this is, was once forced to retire suffering from dehydration (he had scored 105 at the time).
Stokes, speaking at the team hotel while most of his team were golfing, intimated that the adverse weather could result in a late – and interesting – call on selection.
A shorter game would mean less need to worry about resting bowlers or making sure the batting runs deep, creating more flexibility. It seems possible therefore that Ollie Pope may retain the gloves even though Ben Foakes has recovered from his viral infection, and that the only change could be Mark Wood for the injured Liam Livingstone.
Alternatively, the loss of Livingstone’s leg spin (a potentially game-changing type of bowling) may result in a call-up for the uncapped Rehan Ahmed in place of Will Jacks on the basis that a short game would afford an inexperienced cricketer more protection.
“We found ourselves in that situation [of a virus hitting the squad] and we still managed to pick a team strong enough to win,” Stokes said. “We’re going to have a conversation about what we feel is the best route to go.
“With the morning [fog] situation, we’re going to have to take that into [selection] consideration if we feel like that’s going to be the case every day. We’ll have a conversation about the best option to force a result considering we might have to deal with a late start in the morning and then coming off early because of the light. There are a few different options we are going to lay out.”
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