The world might be undecided between Yanny and Laurel, but there is no dispute over admitting the fact that Pakistan know a thing or two about fast bowling. England by the end of their first innings at Lord’s must have figured out that it is not only Mohammad Amir who will be a threat in the coming two weeks but three more pacers in Mohammad Abbas, Hasan Ali and Faheem Ashraf. While most of the eyes were on Amir, playing his second Test at Lord’s since the ill-fated tour of 2010, the major damage was done by the two Lord’s debutants Abbas and Hasan.
The Pakistan Super League is often credited for producing and nurturing talent and Abbas can lay a claim to be the latest player who has benefited from the league. That might surprise a few readers since Abbas has never played a match in the PSL but he did spend a month with Multan Sultans under the watchful eyes of Wasim Akram, who is Multan’s Team Director. That was where Abbas honed his skills and learned more about moving the ball away from the left-handers.
The first wicket to fall at Lord’s on Thursday? Abbas shattering Mark Stoneman’s stumps by deceiving him with a ball that slightly came in – that after beating his outside edge on numerous occasions in the first two overs.
The conditions have been helpful to Abbas on this tour. In three innings thus far, he has accounted for 13 wickets with possibly three more to go. His career numbers at the moment read 36 wickets at an average of 17.33. It sounds, even more, astonishing with the knowledge that five of his seven Tests were in the unhelpful pitches of the Caribbean and the UAE. Only in Jamaica, where he made his debut, there was a phase on the first day when the overcast conditions helped him. With nine wickets in Malahide and four in an innings at Lord’s, he has shown his numbers can be even more threatening.
“The plan was to bowl straight and full,” said Hasan, who also claimed four wickets. “There was moisture in the pitch, and the conditions were helpful. The fielders were really helpful as well. They took good catches in the slips. Our fielding is improving day by day.”
Pakistan seamers were exceptional, save Amir in the opening spell, throughout the day. They were pitching full, England were edging and, more importantly, the slippers and the keeper were catching. 84 percent of the deliveries bowled by Pakistan were either at full or good length.
Hasan’s story is more remarkable. He wasn’t considered good enough to be in the XI a fortnight ago when Pakistan played in Malahide, picked an injury on his bowling hand couple of days before the Test at Lord’s and was uncertain about his place in the team on the eve of the match. Even when he took the bus to the stadium in the morning, he didn’t know he would be playing.
“It was decided on the morning of the match that I would play because I need to bat and field as well. After a fielding test in the morning, it was decided I would play.”
Hasan’s contribution was more vital in a way that he got rid of the most threatening England batsman Joe Root and later in the innings removed Jos Buttler. There is something in this place that Hasan loves. Across all three formats, he has 27 wickets at an average of 18.70 in the United Kingdom including a player-of-the-tournament effort in the last year Champions Trophy.
The only unimpressive factor was Amir’s first spell. He bowled wayward and looked out of rhythm. But his discipline grew with each new spell as he produced a beauty to remove England’s most prolific batsman Alastair Cook, who looked on his way to another daddy hundred. It was Cook’s dismissal that inflicted the collapse. Pakistan removed the last five batsmen for only 16 runs off 27 balls.
Faheem also took only one wicket, but his presence in the team has enabled Pakistan to use the three frontline pacers with a considerable rest between the spells. It bears repeating that before this tour, Pakistan had not played with four pacers and a spinner since the Kandy Test in 2006.
Pakistan were also helped by the fact that England made a mistake by opting to bat first in the overcast conditions and on a pitch that had assistance for fast bowlers. That played in the hands of Pakistan, who also wanted to bowl first. The bowlers have done the job; the onus is now on the batsmen to keep Pakistan in the game.