Bold England sink Pakistan on record-breaking day
With four centurions, England become first side to score 500 on first day of Test.
This isn’t a computer game. Or one of those rounds of book cricket where the thumb almost always conveniently found the folded page numbered six. This is more fantastical. 506 runs in 75 overs, four centurions—all on Day 1 of the first Test of a historic tour that was almost getting delayed because half the touring side was down with a mysterious bug less than 24 hours ago. You can’t script this. And by the looks of it, there will be more.
By the end of the day, England broke a record that had stood since 1910, scoring at 6.74 runs per over. Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope and Harry Brook had all scored centuries, Brook most comfortably of them, in 80 balls. Had it not been for the umpires deciding that light wasn’t good enough to continue, England looked set to pile on more grief on Pakistan in what seemed like a free-for-all final session where the visitors were scoring at—brace yourself—8.28 runs per over.
Throughout the day, England were sending Pakistan on a leather hunt—scoring 6.44 runs per over in the morning session and 5.85 in the post-lunch phase—before Duckett and Brook turned it on T20 style to eviscerate any pretence of this being a Test match. This wasn’t England rewriting history. This was England tearing up the record books, landing a punch in Pakistan’s guts and literally mocking the long-preserved ideals of red-ball cricket. Armed with an audacious brand of batting, England are blurring the lines between formats, taunting and imploring the rest of the cricket world at the same time.
Seventy-three boundaries were hit the whole day, mostly through pulls, punches and drives and some off the so-called unconventional shots. Unconventional to the rest of the world maybe, but this is how England have been playing cricket for a while now—a brand of fearless cricket fashionably labelled Baz-ball that has given them two World Cups in two years. Only this year have they embraced Test cricket with equal gusto. The first notice of this intention was flagged in Nottingham this June, when England piled 539 at 4.2 runs per over against New Zealand, the World Test champions. Second innings, they chased down 300 in 50 overs, ODI style, slowly warming up to this gear of cricket. Leeds happened next, as England scored well above five across 122 overs. And then in Birmingham, they left India gobsmacked by chasing 378 in 76.4 overs.
But this? This is a serious and committed follow-up of a batting manifesto many are still uncomfortable to recognise, leave alone accept. If the ball is new and hard, the batter need not hide his bat behind his pads. And spinners need not be accorded overdue respect just because it’s a subcontinent pitch. Run rates are soaring as a result. Ever since Brendon McCullum’s appointment as England’s head coach in May, only five times out of 14 innings—including this—have England scored at less than four runs per over. And at the heart of this batting philosophy is seeking fun instead of getting overwhelmed. Like when Brook couldn’t help a guilty chuckle after hammering Saud Shakeel for six fours in an over. At the dressing room too, Ben Stokes was seen having a hearty laugh. Rarely have the first days of subcontinent tours been this entertaining.
The pitch was partly to blame for this one-way traffic though. “It was literally exactly the same as a T20 pitch,” Brooks, who now is England’s third-quickest centurion after Gilbert Jessop and Jonny Bairstow, told Sky Sports. Asked about that over, where Brook became the first England batter to hit six boundaries in a Test over, he said: "They were all bad balls, I just tried to put them away really. I was probably happier with that over than the hundred."
Pakistan were clearly not the bowling side they are taken for granted. Missing the injured Shaheen Shah Afridi, they fielded four debutant bowlers in Haris Rauf, seamer Mohammad Ali, leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood and Shakeel but had nowhere to hide on a placid pitch that required strict lines. And the mauling may still be far from over, considering Stokes is at the crease with Will Jacks and T20 phenomenon Liam Livingstone still to come.