While all the focus before the first Test at Lord’s had been on the return of Mohammad Amir to the Pakistan side, few were highlighting the talents of fellow left-arm seamer Rahat Ali. Indeed, Rahat came into the series as very much the least heralded of Pakistan’s left-arm trio that also included Wahab Riaz. English fans of course knew all about Amir, while Wahab’s match winning spell of 4-66 in Dubai in October was evidence that he could cause the home side plenty of problems in even the toughest conditions for fast bowlers.
Nonetheless, at Lord’s this week it was Rahat who quietly went about his business and made key contributions to Pakistan going 1-0 in the four match series. With England chasing 283 for victory on a pitch that was still adequate for batting, the visitors needed early wickets to keep them in check and it was Rahat who delivered.
In his eight over spell with the new ball, the England batsmen played no shot to just 15 of his 48 deliveries. That was despite our ball tracking data showing that only a fraction over 2% of all his balls bowled would have gone on to hit the stumps. In essence, this tells us that England were playing at balls they could have left and on this occasion it proved to be their downfall.
The ball to dismiss Alastair Cook was a classic seamer’s dismissal – a hint of movement (0.89°) through the air towards the left hander before finding just enough deviation off the pitch (0.66°) to hold its line and draw the outside edge.
Next to depart was Alex Hales, an opponent whom Rahat is enjoying bowling against so far in this series. He only bowled nine balls in the whole match to the Nottinghamshire opener but that was enough to pick up his wicket in both innings. On each occasion, Hales was caught in the slip cordon; however what is noticeable is how much Rahat varied his length to him, even in the relatively low number of balls he bowled.
In the first innings, Rahat bowled three balls on a good length (roughly six metres from the batsman’s stumps) with one back of a length at eight metres and a fuller delivery at 3.9 metres. However, his four deliveries in the second innings to Hales were much shorter; the first three pitching at 9.9 metres, 9.6 metres and 8.1 metres before the wicket ball that was slightly fuller at 7.6 metres. This variance in length prevented the batsman from settling and drew the false shot – it is clear from Hales’ hesitant footwork for his second innings dismissal that he was unsure what length to expect. The Rahat v Hales contest could be one to look out for in the remainder of the series if this pattern continues.
It seems hard to believe now that Rahat was very nearly not even selected to play in this match. Sohail Khan picked up 3-26 in the first warm up match against Somerset before Imran Khan impressed during his 2-60 against Sussex. Either one of those right-arm bowlers could have taken Rahat’s place but the selectors opted for the left-arm triumvirate and it paid dividends. It perhaps goes to show the benefits of competition in a squad; the need for a player to perform when he knows there are team mates knocking on the door to take his place.
The final blow from Rahat in his opening spell was the big wicket of Joe Root. With what was his second shortest ball of his spell at that stage (11.8 metres from the batsman), he forced Root to hole out to square leg and England were in real trouble at 47-3. Wahab and Amir would go on to have their say later in the innings, not to mention the brilliance of man of the match, Yasir Shah. But at that stage, Pakistan’s unsung hero had seized the moment and set his side on their way to famous victory.