Teenager Rehan Ahmed takes two wickets as England bowl out Pakistan
After a dizzying first day of this series finale in Karachi, the true balance of power was yet to reveal itself. But those present in the ground, or watching back at home, were left in no doubt as to the headline act, young Rehan Ahmed having not just survived his first day in the whites of England but positively thrived.
It started with a kiss, Ahmed embraced by his father, Naeem, after receiving his cap and with it, at the age of 18 years and 126 days, becoming England’s youngest Test cricketer. But this fairytale in the city of lights did not end there, the leg-spinner’s two for 89 from 22 overs underlining the potential Shane Warne once purred about when, aged 11, Ahmed winkled out Alastair Cook and Ben Stokes in the nets at Lord’s.
English cricket’s history with wrist-spin is filled with enough false dawns to prompt a degree of caution here. Nevertheless, it was the way these first figures were secured that proved so uplifting. Once a tentative morning spell of five overs, none for 37 was out of his system, Ahmed grew in confidence, helping to roll Pakistan for 304 all out in 79 overs before England reached seven for one by stumps.
The first wicket was a precious breakthrough in the circumstances. Saud Shakeel was rebuilding alongside Babar Azam in the afternoon, guiding Pakistan to a solid 162 for three in the 42nd over and showing the kind of resolve that has made the left-hander such a hardy perennial all series.
Stokes, a captain sitting 2-0 up and in search of a historic clean sweep on Pakistan soil, turned back to Ahmed in search of inspiration. What followed was a treat, Ahmed first beating Shakeel’s outside edge with a ripping googly and then, with the follow-up, locating the exact same length with a leg-break that dropped, tickled the inside edge and ballooned off the pad. All that was left was for Ollie Pope to produce a wonderful one-handed catch at short-leg and though it took the use of technology for total confirmation England were long since celebrating.
This proved the catalyst for Pakistan to lose their last seven wickets for 142 runs, Ahmed also striking after tea when Faheem Ashraf, another left-hander, was trapped lbw by a delicious googly. By this stage the hosts had already lost Babar, needlessly run out for 78, and Mohammad Rizwan’s underwhelming series rolled on when he charged Joe Root, met a full toss and stuck it down Stokes’s throat at midwicket.
It may be that runs on the board first-up prove match-winning, as was the case for England in Multan. Certainly the demise of Zak Crawley before sunset, lbw fifth ball to a fine slider from Abrar Ahmed, meant Pakistan walked off feeling content with life. Yet as positively as the hosts played all day, they were still left to rue a number of self-inflicted dismissals after Babar had finally won a toss.
Not that Stokes wasn’t again enterprising, such as asking Jack Leach to be the first England spinner to open the bowling on day one of a Test match for 101 years – Somerset’s Jack White, in 1921, the last. This was rewarded with the early removal of Abdullah Shafique lbw en route to figures of four for 140 from 31 overs.
It was just that with England’s attack being down a seamer on the previous two Tests – Jimmy Anderson resting and Ben Foakes returning behind the stumps – Pakistan had a golden chance to correct some of the mistakes during their doomed chase in Multan and make even better use of a surface that should deteriorate. Instead, rather gallingly for Babar and his head coach, Saqlain Mushtaq, came a few repeats.
This included two of the three wickets to fall before lunch, albeit both players were recalled for this match. Shan Masood had looked sprightly first thing, lofting Leach for a couple of early fours. But on 30 the left-hander looked to take on a short ball from Mark Wood, only to send a top edge flying to Leach at fine leg. On the stroke of the interval came another glance down leg when Ollie Robinson returned from a spell off the field with a stomach complaint and removed Azhar Ali for 45.
Azhar, playing his final Test before retirement, offered a right-handed replay of Shakeel’s demise last week. In this instance, however, the only doubt was in the mind of Joel Wilson, now an on-field umpire, whose soft signal of not out was overturned by Marais Erasmus up in the booth once replays showed Foakes had held the ball cleanly.
A drinks carrier during the wins in Rawalpindi and Multan, Foakes had provided an immediate reminder of his precise glove work. This was something he went on to show throughout a day where the ball skidded low from the seamers and was capped off when his tumbling take ran out Babar from Harry Brook’s throw.
Foakes also pulled off a straightforward stumping as Leach hoovered up the last three wickets, Agha Salman’s battling 56 – when he shrugged off a nasty blow to the neck from the tireless Wood – shut down as the left-arm spinner found some sharp turn. This was among the deliveries that suggested Pakistan’s position was still healthy enough but Ahmed, unquestionably, remained the story.