Harder, faster, better, stronger. England have taken the Daft Punk approach to reviving their Test fortunes, not to mention reshaping the format as a whole. But how can you raise the bar after scoring close to 1000 runs at well above a run a ball, then crowbarring out the 20th wicket to secure one of the most-remarkable – and hardest-earned – victories in Test history amid the lengthening shadows of the final session on day five?
Ben Stokes, England’s captain/nutty-professor-in-chief, has a few ideas on that front, but will be content for more of the same in Multan. England may be 1-0 up in the series, in a country where they have only ever won twice before, but there is little chance of conservatism creeping in – with allrounder Liam Livingstone invalided out of the rest of the series, Stokes and Brendon McCullum have opted to bring in a fast bowler, Mark Wood, to add to their cutting edge.
McCullum flagged at the start of the tour that his team would be chasing results, even that meant hustling themselves to defeat in the process. It helps that England’s World Test Championship hopes were dead on arrival; and there is no better way to win a three-match series than to go 2-0 up after two.
But Babar Azam might be grateful to know that, like an undead horde, this England will just keep coming. Not because he enjoys the stress headaches brought on by having to set fields when England’s batters are on the charge, but because that very impulsiveness might result in a slip-up that lets Pakistan back into the contest – particularly if the pitches to come are anywhere near as uncooperative as Rawalpindi.
Pakistan might need to discover a new spirit of adventure themselves, but they could start with selection and then go from there. The batters acquitted themselves well enough in the first Test, with hundreds for the captain and both openers, while the debutant Saud Shakeel top-scored with 76 in their failed run chase. But it is not just hindsight to suggest that an attack featuring three debutants and 19-year-old Naseem Shah as its most-experienced head was always going to struggle in the face of England’s onslaught.
The early suggestions from on the ground in Multan are that, as Babar requested for the first Test, spin may play a greater role. More life in the surface should improve the contest, potentially dulling the edge on England’s strokeplay – India took that route to flex their strength in home conditions during the 2020-21 tour – although the Bazball response to playing on a Bunsen would be fascinating.
Pakistan also need to push that bit harder for results across four home Tests against England and New Zealand, if they are to keep their own WTC final hopes alive. Once the morning fog clears in Multan, it’ll be time to put the pedal to the metal once again. Go harder, or go home.
Pakistan LLWLD (last five Tests, most recent first) England WWWLW
In the spotlight
An unexpected debut, confirmed only a couple of minutes before the toss, meant Will Jacks was able to slip into his Test whites somewhat under the radar. But after stepping up in the wake of Livingstone jarring his knee to bowl 40.3 overs – more than he had ever previously delivered in a first-class innings – on the way to figures of 6 for 161, Jacks is likely to be the focus of some extra attention. His ability to score attacking hundreds while giving his offspin a rip has already earned comparisons with Moeen Ali, and his performance in Rawalpindi is only likely to have raised such expectations. The challenge is to keep meeting them.
Abdullah Shafique has had a stunning start to his Test career. First capped just over a year ago – having only played two first-class games – he now averages 65.84 from eight Tests, his 114 at Rawalpindi the seventh time he has passed 50 in 15 innings. If he can add another 144 runs over the course of England’s visit, he will become the fastest Pakistan batter to 1000 in Tests. Opening the batting in Pakistan seems a good gig right now, but after England succeeded with their unorthodox new-ball policy in the second innings, bouncing him out for 6, they will be hoping to put a check on his stellar progress.
What will the Acme Pakistan Selection Generator come up with this week? They opted not to add an experienced seamer, in the mould of Hasan Ali or Mohammad Abbas, to their 17-man squad after the injury to Haris Rauf, but could still make as many as four changes to the attack. Naseem is a significant doubt due to a sore shoulder sustained during the Rawalpindi Test. Mohammad Nawaz seems likely to return as a spin-bowling option who can add depth to the batting, allrounder Faheem Ashraf may also be picked and Mohammad Wasim Jnr and Abrar Ahmed could potentially be Pakistan’s fifth and sixth debutants for the series.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Abdullah Shafique, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Babar Azam (capt), 5 Saud Shakeel, 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 7 Agha Salman/Faheem Ashraf, 8 Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Naseem Shah/Mohammad Wasim Jnr, 10 Mohammad Ali, 11 Abrar Ahmed/Zahid Mahmood
Stokes confirmed just one change to the England XI, which means barring another late bout of illness striking the camp Ollie Pope will keep the gloves ahead of a fit-again Ben Foakes, with Wood coming in for the injured Livingstone.
England: 1 Zak Crawley, 2 Ben Duckett, 3 Ollie Pope (wk), 4 Joe Root, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Ben Stokes (capt), 7 Will Jacks, 8 Ollie Robinson, 9 Jack Leach, 10 Mark Wood, 11 James Anderson
Pitch and conditions
There have only been seven first-class matches played in Multan since 2018, with five ending in draws, and the stats suggest it is the most batting-friendly ground in use for this series. Mohammad Yousuf, Pakistan’s batting coach who averaged 86.16 from four Test appearances in Multan during the 2000s, reportedly travelled up before the end of the Pindi Test to speak to the curator – whether or not that results in a turning surface more to the hosts’ liking remains to be seen. Air pollution could also be a factor, with the potential for morning smog to further squeeze the playing hours.
Stats and trivia
Multan has not hosted a Test since 2006, when Pakistan and West Indies played out a high-scoring draw.
The year before, England were the visitors as Pakistan clinched a 22-run win on the final day – Marcus Trescothick, England’s batting coach on this tour, scoring 193 in vain.
England’s 657 in Rawalpindi was the second-highest total recorded by a visiting team in Pakistan – behind the 675 for 5 declared made by India at the Multan Cricket Stadium in 2004.
Pakistan have only once managed to come from 1-0 down to win a Test series of three matches or more, against Zimbabwe in 1994-95.
Jack Leach needs two more wickets for 100 in Tests.
“We have staged comebacks in the past and were confident of doing so again. But we made mistakes in Pindi that we need to cut down on.” Babar Azam issues a rallying cry
“Whether we bat or bowl first we’ll still be implementing the same style of cricket. If we bat first we’ll try and press the run rate and move the game forward as fast as we can. And if we bowl first, I don’t think you’ll see too much difference to how we approached [Rawalpindi] with the ball.” Ben Stokes is promising more of the same
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick