England doesn’t have a mystery spinner, but it does have mystery seamstresses. The three magic bullets distributed on the third afternoon – one by James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood – will allow them to be called the Sultans of Multan provided England win the second Test.
Too bad for English rhythm bowlers who can only play at home on green seams. Under the tutelage of Anderson – who needs a bowling coach when the world’s fastest bowler is on the pitch – England have come to learn all the tricks of the trade.
Inswing, outswing, reverse-swing, offcutters, legcutters, yorkers, bouncers, cross-sam, wobble-sam and conventional seam. Pakistan was once called the graveyard of fast bowlers – arguably the greatest of all conventional fast bowlers, Dennis Lillee, took three wickets there at 101 runs apiece – but England’s pace bowlers have conjured up three unplayable deliveries in one session using all the latest devices.
After ripping the stump off Pakistan’s top three right-handers, the English triumvirate couldn’t separate their left-handed pair at the fourth wicket. But the reverse swing of right-arm-paced bowlers is still less effective against left-handed batsmen, because the ball entering their pads and stumps swings less, by another of the inexplicable laws that govern swing bowling.
Even the greatest of all exponents of the reverse swing, Waqar Younis, could be put off by lefties. A Zimbabwean fly-half of modest ability, Mark Dekker, who averaged just 15 in Test cricket, can still dine on the feat of batting Waqar and Wasim Akram for an unbeaten 68 in Rawalpindi in 1993. Another Zimbabwean drummer passed 10 .
Anderson set the tone after England’s closest went under their new management to a botched session on the first of day three in which Anderson himself could not be said to have sold his wicket dearly . He made up for it after lunch with the wicket of Mohammad Rizwan, who was one for the ages in Pakistan: an angled ball, which launched over the middle stump, shredded from the seam and hit the top of it- this.
It is worth pointing out how rare it has been for a Pakistani batsman to be beaten in a home Test by an English bowler: there had been only 73 cases (starting with the inaugural Test in 1961-2) before Pakistan’s second inning, and now three has come in a hurry.
Normally, a cricket ball does not move laterally from grassless surfaces in Pakistan, as Lillee discovered. Still, Robinson conjured up a ball that deflected 2.48 degrees and, unsurprisingly, Pakistani captain Babar Azam completely caught off guard. Pakistan’s own crimpers have produced nothing similar in this entire series.
To produce his jaffa in a country that produces lots of oranges, Robinson went beyond the fold and kicked it off with an inswinger action. Babar’s reaction was the same open-mouthed amazement as when Ben Stokes was knocked down by mysterious Pakistani spinner Abrar Ahmed. But then no one knew that England had bio-engineered these mysterious new crimpers.
Wood completed the magic balls hat trick with a reverse swing that, given its trajectory, skidded slightly lower than Anderson and Robinson’s magic balls, and therefore hit inches below the top of the stump. Wood threw himself to his feet in the process as he puts his all into every delivery, but Abdullah Shafique was also knocked down.
Growing cracks might well have helped the bowlers in all three cases, but simply by exaggerating the movement the bowlers had put on the ball.
A few missed catches by Jack Leach – Shafique at one and Saud Shakeel at four – made England’s task more difficult, but Leach at least separated the left-handed pair from Pakistan’s fourth wicket before the close; and England could expect a second new higher-bounce ball.
Stokes not playing in this test so far might seem unusual, but it was the same in last summer’s Headingley test against New Zealand. He didn’t play at all in their first inning and only four overs in the second. The man’s motives are mixed, it is said, and there may have been two people involved in both cases. Stokes hammered his left knee in the previous game a few days earlier – in this case on the road to Rawalpindi – and was able to rest it here by selecting three other setters.
Second, Stokes is like the lion who wants the cubs to share the loot among themselves as part of their learning. If the push materializes as Pakistan near their goal, it will be unprecedented if they can withstand one more challenge.