England plant roots for recover mission against Pakistan

Joe Root struck a 254 as England responded to their first-match defeat by Pakistan in style. Pic: Martin Rickett/PA

Joe Root struck a 254 as England responded to their first-match defeat by Pakistan in style. Pic: Martin Rickett/PA

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To win this series, England need to win this match. That was the challenge directed to them in the run up to Friday and they have responded magnificently. Sometime in the next two days, they should complete a victory and feel satisfied that the loss at Lord’s has been erased. All will then be to play for in the final two Test matches.

It started with winning the toss – which is down to luck – but since batting first, there has been little fortune needed. Alastair Cook scored a century, but it was almost a distant memory yesterday as Joe Root confirmed his status as one of the best batsmen in the game with a superb 254. It is his highest Test score and quite possibly his most mature innings.

He has been public in recent months at his poor conversion rate of fifties into centuries and with some justification. Of his last 10 half-centuries, only one had finished in three figures. For a top-order batsman that is poor. For a top-class, top-order batsman that is shameful and how he went about correcting it in this match. The more flamboyant shots were cut out, ruthlessly.

The pull shots intended to dominate were conspicuous in their absence and the wide balls teasing for a loose shot were ignored, studiously. In their place was a steady accumulation, a relentless collection of runs and mostly the best kind, those of minimal risk.

That is not to say the innings was boring. It could never be with Root, as his style is so natural and attractive. He clips off his toes and hips with elan and his cover drive, front elbow high, knee well bent and weight forward is as elegant as a physical act can be.

He was helped, firstly by night-watchman Chris Woakes, who outscored him on his way to 58, and then a sequence of Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali. Their runs were useful, decorations to the main event of Root.

Cook decided enough was enough with the score 589 and demanded his bowlers make early inroads into a visibly tired Pakistan team. Fielding over 150 overs is “hard yakka” for any player and it showed as Pakistan stuttered losing four early wickets.

The man who did it was Woakes, continuing his excellent form with the ball from Lord’s.

He has turned himself into a quite exceptional cricketer. He bowls at a very good pace, but where before it was a bit straight up and down, he now gets some swing and consistently hits the seam for movement. His wickets are not just a lucky streak but reward for some excellent bowling. Mohammed Hafeez edged to slip, Root taking an easy catch and then Azhar Ali half-batted a lob back to the bowler himself. There was a buzz around the ground and Woakes was as dominant for a spell as Root had been earlier.

Stokes dismissed Younis Khan and then in the final moments Rahat Ali flapped at a bouncer and Gary Ballance caught with ease.

The extra bounce in the pitch suits the England players, but not the Pakistanis, who prefer front-foot cricket.

The series will not be decided here in Manchester, though, but at Edgbaston and the Oval.

Pakistan will recover, but will be helped greatly by picking an extra bowler. The four detailed for duty in this match are exhausted. Much will depend on if the ICC allow Hafeez to resume his off-spin. There is opportunity for an assessment before the next match and how they need him. An off-spinner could attack the footmarks of the left arm seamers and would also enjoy the fact that three of England’s top six are left handers.

England are dominant now, but this series has many twists left. There are still issues in England’s batting as neither Alex Hales nor James Vince are currently convincing and there will continue to be questions asked of Ballance.

Cook and Root have created the runs supremacy in this match but relying on them is not a recipe for consistent success. However, it has been a fantastic seven days of cricket thus far and a joy that Pakistan are rehabilitating so splendidly.

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