After England claimed victory on Day 3 at Headingley, Ben Jones bemoans the lack of flexibility in Pakistan’s approach.
After 267 days, numerous changes of personnel and three different series, England have won a Test match. Just days after their thrashing at Lord’s, Joe Root’s men picked themselves up and delivered essentially the perfect performance, defeating Pakistan inside three days and levelling the two-match contest.
From the moment Sarfraz Ahmed decided to bat and the clouds came charging in over Headingley, everything went England’s way. At times you wondered whether Root was exploiting his local knowledge on an almost supernatural level, such was the extent to which England enjoyed the best of the conditions. They bowled superbly with the new ball on that cloudy first morning, then batted with resilience as the sun shone through and all things batting seemed far, far easier. They outplayed Pakistan throughout, and deserved their victory.
But were Pakistan unlucky? In terms of creating chances, both attacks were broadly on a level. Pakistan edged 8.3% of their deliveries, whilst England edged 8.1%. Equally, Pakistan defended or left the ball at almost exactly the same rate as their hosts, and in terms of technique they came forward to slightly more deliveries (66% compared to 58%), which may well have proved crucial. Yet none of this suggests that the gulf between the sides should have been so huge.
The inflexibility of Pakistan’s tactics may have cost them. England had such success with that aggressive full length on the first morning, a strategy they intensified in the second innings, but Pakistan steadfastly refused to push it right up. As such, England were able to get the most out of the conditions, get ahead in the game early and then defend their position with the bat.
Pakistan’s seamers were so effective at Lord’s, and they tried to replicate their approach here. Their length was just 10cm fuller in this Test compared to the first; England’s was almost a metre fuller than before. Anderson and company adapted not just to the conditions but from their own natural game.
Equally, Pakistan refused to adapt with the bat. England had altered their approach significantly, batting far further forward than they had at Lord’s. Pakistan partially adopted this, batting 5cm further forward, but in truth that wasn’t a pronounced enough response. England’s innovation (Buttler-inspired) was effective because it was so extreme – Pakistan’s approach was too nuanced for the situation.
And on balance, that was the difference between the two teams; the ability and willingness to adapt. Pakistan rocked up at Lord’s and blew England away after excellent preparation, and caught Root’s side cold. Here, with their opposition back up to speed, they tried to play the same match again, and couldn’t keep up.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.