We went to Pakistan for a Test series… it was to be one of England’s greatest wins (No hyperbole)!
Pakistan posted 468 first up in the opening Test but we responded with 454 (Root 125, Crawley 105). Pakistan then made 347-6 declared… but we only chased down 362! All of our top seven contributed as we won with one over of the match remaining. In the second Test, Root (155) and Buttler (141*) helped put 593 on the board. We then bowled Pakistan out twice with spin trio Jack Leach, Dom Bess and most impressively, leg-spinner Mason Crane, all in the wickets. Then for one of the greatest Tests of all time, one to rival the first of this series even! We made changes including omitting captain Joe Root, in-form Jos Buttler and spinner Jack Leach. Rory Burns captained the side for the first time. We batted first and were bowled out for 180 before the hosts made 357. We fought back with an innings of 344 that included 103 from stand-in gloveman Ben Foakes. Sam Curran hit 63 in the Surrey duo’s partnership of 128. Spin bowlers Dom Bess (5-52) and Mason Crane (4-64) then rounded off superb series for themselves personally to seal an 11-run win. Remember that we overhauled a first innings deficit of 177! So many players performed but our spin threesome of Leach (2m, 9w @ 33), Bess (3m, 18w at 26.39) and Crane (3m, 13 @ 40.92) were excellent. Recalled after years in the wilderness, Crane grew as the series went on and turned into a match winner. It was an incredible series whitewash in Pakistan that continued our phenomenal trend of incredibly tense and exciting series. Onto the 50-over World Cup…
Zimbabwe were easily brushed aside with Dawid Malan striking 109. It was great to see the out of form but kept faith with opener score a World Cup century. Remember that he’d been ditched on the eve of the T20 World Cup. Unfortunately we followed our opening win with a heavy defeat against India who dismissed us for just 136!
Liam Livingstone struck 110 and Jos Buttler 88 not out to get us to 302-5 against Sri Lanka. Deslite being extremely well placed for victory, Sri Lanka succumbed to the spin of Mason Crane (4-51) and Tom Smith (3-61) to fall short by only one run! In tribune against New Zealand, captain Moeen Ali (88) led the fightback and was well supported by Stevie Eskinazi (60). At unbroken last wicket stand of 49 between Smith (26*) and David Payne (23*) saw us pass the 300 mark. Moeen (4-66) and Payne (3-42) then followed up their batting performances with the ball as we held out by 21 runs. We then stifled West Indies, limiting them to 245 all out before Ben Stokes (88) led a successful run chase. Stokes followed that knock up with an 86-ball 111 against Bangladesh but Liton Das’ scintillating 141-ball 191 not out helped Bangladesh chase down 343! We bounced back to beat Pakistan with who else but Stokes the starting light. The Durham man blasted an undefeated 181 not out off 154 balls to lift us to a healthy 358. Joe Root made 76 and though a little accident rather than design, Root as opener and Stokes at three was working tremendously well.
In our next match, Afghanistan raced to 114-0 but David Payne (5-53) claimed a hat-trick and a five-wicket haul to dismiss Afghanistan for 335. Stokes (85), Root (80) and Malan (70) set is on our way to a four-wicket sun. We then beat South Africa by scraping together 267 (Malan 60, Eskinazi (49), Buttler (43) before left-arm pace (Sam Curran 4-20/Payne (2-38) and left-arm spin (Tom Smith 3-32) bowled South Africa out for just 119. That win meant that we played… South Africa in the semi-final.
In the semi-final, Moeen Ali turned to the part-time off-spin of Joe Root who duly delivered with 3-41. Rassie van der Dussen batted superbly for 83 but Brent Ferrira bludgeoning a brutal and crucial 12-ball 38 not out. We never looked like overhauling 328, even Jos Buttler dragging out the innings with a 98-ball 119 not out. He actually added 47 with last man Payne… who was out for a 13-ball duck! We fell short by 39 runs to make it T20I and ODI semi-final heartache. Jason Roy endured a wretched tournament and finished it in the bench. For a few other players, it could possibly have been their last game in an England shirt. Only three of the semi-final XI were aged under thirty, two of which were 29!
We returned to winning ways with a 2-0 home Test series victory over Zimbabwe. Multi-format players were rested but we still fielded an extremely strong side. Zak Crawley sealed the deal with 103 not out in the second innings of the second Test and make it a hat-trick of Test wins for stand-in captain Rory Burns.
The big guns returned to take on West Indies in the Test Championship final (Had I realised then I would likely have brought them back for the second Test against Zimbabwe!). The match was a thriller that ended anti-climatically. We posted 536-5 declared (Root 173, Sibley 135). We had West Indies in dire straits but Shimron Hetmyer (164) kept West Indies in the match. Spinners Jack Leach (5-96) and Dom Bess (4-116) did the bulk of the damage. In our second innings, we batted positively to score 231-9 declared in 51 overs. Despite taking eight wickets on the final day, Kemar Roach (7*) held on with that man Hetmyer (59*) to secure a draw. Windies themselves were only about 40 runs from victory.
Jos Buttler struck a 23-ball 58 to help us win the opening T20I then followed that up with a 19-ball 40 in the second match. Joe Root struck an awesome 55-ball 103! Sam Curran claimed three wickets as he had done in the opening match. We did however list the dead rubber despite three wickets apiece for Dom Bess (3-4), David Payne (3-17) and Benny Howell (3-32). Let’s just say that we were a little complacent in a small run chase!
The ODI series (Captained by Liam Livingstone) followed the same pattern as we secured an unassailable lead… only to lose the dead rubber! In the series curtain raiser, Stokes hit 133 and Sam Curran claimed 5-32 as we won by 94 runs. In the second match, Ben Slater followed 83 on debut with 107, whilst skipper Liam Livingstone was run out for 95. Ed Barnard (3-40) and Lewis Goldsworthy (3-57) claimed three wickets each. After being criticised for scoring too slowly, Ben Slater made it back to back hundreds with a 92-ball 105 in the final match of Zimbabwe’s visit to these shores. The tourists chased down 306 though, with young left-arm pace bowler Oliver Taylor continuing to look not quite ready for international cricket.
It was then Pakistan again and we soon found ourselves one down in the ODI series. Debutante duo Tom Helm (10-0-80-0) and teenager Tony Skillbeck (4-0-47-0) experienced chastening first international outings. Ben Slater followed up his back-to-back centuries against Zimbabwe with 97 but once again, was a little slow about it. Ben Foakes blasted 60 off 35 balls but we fell nine runs short. Absurdly, Slater struck 97 again in the second ODI but again, it wasn’t quick. 261 turned out to be enough by 30 runs after the ever impressive Payne claimed 4-42. Captain Liam Livingstone stepped up to claim 3-50 in the deciding match before striking 96 in a partnership of 181 with Ben Stokes (97) to help take us to a five-wicket and series victory.
We went one up in the T20I series with a comfortable 40-run win. Ben Duckett (46 off 22) and Liam Livingstone (79* off 56) put on 82 when opening together for the first time. Lewis Gregory’s 3-6 meant that the visitors didn’t get close to our total of 196. We only 164 in the second fixture though and despite skipper Moeen Ali’s 4-40, Pakistan levelled the series with three wickets to spare. We upped our first innings total to 186 come the final game (Pope 55*) but Pakistan blitzed the powerplay. Though we dragged the match into the final over, Pakistan won with three wickets in hand once again to claim the series.
We started this post with Tests against Pakistan and we’ll do the same in the next one…