Wood provides England spark on return
Harry Brook was the player of the match for his heroics with the bat – that’s two centuries in three Tests now for the youngster who looks unfazed and menacing in every format – but it could easily have been Mark Wood.
Wood, having not played in a Test – or bowled more than four overs in a game – since March, was England’s main weapon in Pakistan’s second innings and put on a clinic in his remarkable 21 overs of aggressive fast bowling and sheer persistence.
Wood picked up the huge wickets of Abdullah Shafique, Saud Shakeel (more on that dismissal to follow) and Mohammad Nawaz before smashing Zahid Mahmood’s stump out of the ground, clocking speeds as high as 97mph in his spell in the process. Shoaib Akhtar, the man who wrecked England in their last series in Pakistan 17 years ago, would have been proud.
Wood also contributed with the bat with a quickfire 36 to take England well past 250 in the first innings, though it is his impact with the ball that makes him so crucial to Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum ahead of a huge summer in 2023 – with or without Jofra Archer.
“Honestly, I’m shattered,” Wood told Sky Sports Cricket. “I’d run through a brick wall for Stokesy so I’m really pleased I’ve managed to get those wickets for him.”
Wood proved a lot about his durability in Multan. His quality, and heart, have never been in question.
Leach, Root an unlikely spin tandem
On a wicket that provided much more turn and joy for the spinners than Rawalpindi, Jack Leach demonstrated his value for Stokes’ England once again.
Leach may not be a superstar spinner with unlimited tricks up his sleeve but Stokes’ confidence in him – with more aggressive fields and earlier spells – is fuelling the greatest form of his Test career and it was his four wickets in the first innings that lay the groundwork for a famous victory. That he now has 100 Test wickets for his country should hopefully earn him more plaudits, for he is now another of Stokes’ go-to bowlers when the pressure is on.
“I think he has developed and learnt a lot,” said England seamer Stuart Broad on Sky Sports Cricket. “He has played 31 Test matches and has played in all sorts of different conditions and his record is up there with English spinners.”
Another often unsung and for so long underused spinner making his mark for England is Joe Root, who was well and truly England’s second spinner in Multan and picked up three wickets in the match. In doing so, he became just the third player – and first Englishman – to score over 10,000 runs and take 50 wickets or more in Tests, joining esteemed company in Steve Waugh and Jacques Kallis.
Root would probably be closer towards their wicket tallies (92 and 292 respectively) if he had bowled himself a little more during his years as captain, although Stokes obviously recognises the worth of the man he succeeded.
Abrar stars – but what went wrong for Pakistan?
Let’s start with the positives for Pakistan.
Abrar Ahmed, in his first Test and just his 15th first class match, already looks like a potential superstar with the ball, with 11 wickets on debut, equalling a Pakistan record. His googly, which turns more than his stock leg-spinner, coupled with his accuracy could be a nightmare on the international circuit for years to come.
Pakistan, though, could do with a lot more help from their other bowlers – Mohammad Ali was wicketless in his second Test while Zahiid Mahmood took wickets, but is going at over seven an over in this series. Their batting line-up, meanwhile, looked stretched on a more bowler-friendly wicket.
They could have mainstays in Shafique and Shakeel, but Pakistan crumbled from a very handy 142-2 to 202 all-out in the first innings, something they could never truly recover from.
“We did not finish well in the first innings, and that cost us,” admitted captain Babar Azam.
Pakistan are certainly contributing to a magnificent series – their two defeats were agonising and hugely dramatic by Test standards – but they really need to give their fans a victory in Karachi.
Big Shakeel wicket stirs controversy
That being said, Pakistan probably can count themselves a little unlucky over the big wicket of Shakeel on day four.
Having flicked the ball down the leg-side, Pope dived low to his right and at first sight appeared to gather the ball cleanly, with the on-field umpires giving a soft signal of out.
It went upstairs and on replay, it looked like Pope may have dragged the ball along the ground before catching it – with the ball in between his gloves rather than nestled in them – although the inconclusive footage meant ultimately the original decision stood. If the soft signal was not out, that decision likely would have stayed too.
“It looked to us as if the ball had touched the ground,” Babar said afterwards.
“As a professional, you have to respect the umpire’s decision, but we felt the ball had been grounded.”
Stokes said he had “no doubt” about the catch, though Pope admitted he wasn’t really sure.
“As a keeper, when you’ve got the gloves on you honestly can’t tell,” he said. “I didn’t think it had touched the ground after. When you have gloves on you feel it go in but that’s it.”
Could this be England’s greatest overseas series victory?
No team has ever won three matches in a Test series in Pakistan, but England now have a glorious chance to do so and complete a stunning sweep.
It’s already been a momentous Test series for the visitors – Rawalpindi will ling love in the memory – and making it 3-0 would surely rank this up there with England’s greatest ever overseas series victories.
The 2011 Ashes and 2013 win in India would probably like a word – as would Nasser Hussain’s big win in Pakistan in 2000 – but a sweep here wouldn’t just be notable for dominating an established side in their favoured conditions, but also the fearless approach.
Will there be changes for the final Test?
Wood may have been the hero in Multan but he was also as exhausted as he was ecstatic afterwards, and so resting a player Nasser describes as a “racehorse England must take care of” is surely a possibility in the final game.
James Anderson, while not having as heavy a workload as Wood, is still 40 years old and him sitting out could also be a consideration, particularly with a wildcard spinner waiting in the wings.
Rehan Ahmed, 18, will be desperate to make his mark on this series, and a game in Karachi could give England a chance to see the leg-spinner with the pressure, relatively, off.
Not that Nasser sees it that way.
“I think you just carry on living for the moment, you carry on for that winning feeling,” he said on Sky Sports Cricket. “You don’t want to end the tour on a negative note in any way with what lies ahead, you look to the future by making sure you win the present.
“You obviously turn to Mark Wood and say, ‘are you ok to go again?’ If he’s any doubt, you rest him.
“But you don’t turn to Ahmed just because you want to give it a game, you’re playing at Karachi, one of the great venues, and you want to seal a 3-0 win.”
Will Jacks’ place, though, may be in question for the final game given he struggled somewhat with the bat and was barely used with the ball.
Watch the third Test from Karachi all live on Sky Sports Cricket from Saturday, December 17. Coverage starts at 4.30am, with the first ball at 5am.
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