England’s tactical moves in Test series paid off in Pakistan, says Ben Stokes

England’s skipper Ben Stokes shakes hand with Pakistani players after winning the test cricket match against Pakistan, in Karachi.

England’s skipper Ben Stokes shakes hand with Pakistani players after winning the test cricket match against Pakistan, in Karachi.
| Photo Credit: AP

Captain Ben Stokes believes England adapted well to the conditions in Pakistan with its aggressive and bold tactical moves to register the country’s only second 3-0 test series sweep in the subcontinent.

Stokes’ predecessor Joe Root led England to its only other sweep on the subcontinent when it beat Sri Lanka 3-0 in 2018. And England’s ‘Bazball’ approach to test cricket under new coach Brendon McCullum, a long-time star for New Zealand, was the determining factor in Pakistan losing a three-test home series 3-0 for the first time.

England signed off on its first test tour to Pakistan in 17 years with an emphatic eight-wicket win on Tuesday on the fourth day of the final test in the cricket fortress of Pakistan – National Stadium.

“It won’t really sink in until we get home or in the new year,” Stokes said after scoring an unbeaten 35 in England’s run-chase that was led by Ben Duckett’s powerful 82 not out off 78 balls. “We understand what we’ve done is pretty special … it will be something to be really proud of.

“Coming into subcontinental conditions … everything we’ve tried has come off. I’ve learned a lot in terms of the tactical side, that’s the best thing to come out of it.”

McCullum described England’s nine wins in the last 10 test matches as “quite an incredible ride” under Stokes’ brand of aggressive cricket.

“We’re definitely comfortable with nine out of 10,” McCullum told the Pakistan Cricket Board’s digital podcast. “The side is walking in his sort of style now and playing the way that he likes the game to be played, it’s been absolutely fantastic.”

England set the tone of its dominance when its top four batters – Zak Crawley, Duckett, Ollie Pope and Harry Brook — smashed belligerent centuries on the opening day of the first test on a flat wicket at Rawalpindi which later received a demerit point from the ICC.

Stokes made a bold declaration on the fourth day at Rawalpindi that saw England registering a 74-run win in dimming light on the last day with Pakistan less than 10 minutes away from forcing a draw.

Pakistan’s batters cracked under Stokes’ umbrella of fielders surrounding them throughout the 343-run chase before eventually falling for 268.

“The first test pitch was very, very flat and we just said ‘enjoy the flatness boys, let’s just enjoy this challenge and see what we can do.’”

England blunted the mystery spin of Abrar Ahmed on a slow turning wicket in Multan before registering a thrilling 26-run win – also inside four days. Ahmed did pick up 11 wickets in the game, his test debut, but Brook’s century in the second innings once again gave England enough runs to defend through Mark Wood’s express pace on the fourth day.

“It is a great time to be in this dressing room and a great time to be playing for England,” Stokes said. “I’m just encouraging everyone to turn up every day and enjoy what you’re doing. Obviously it is easier to do when we are winning the way we are at the moment.”

The toss didn’t affect England’s dominance in the series when Babar Azam won his first toss of the series and opted to bat in the final test. The left-arm spin of Jack Leach and 18-year-old Rehan Ahmed dismissed Pakistan for 304 before England notched a significant 50-run lead through Brook’s third hundred in the series.

Rehan Ahmed’s maiden five-wicket haul, which made him the youngest to do so in men’s test cricket, once against cracked through Pakistan’s brittle middle-order as England shot out the home team for 216.

“It is exactly what you want when you are picking a team, you want to have discussions that are hard on who to pick,” Stokes said. “Brooky has been outstanding in this series. The way he has played, the way he has taken the game on, the runs he’s scored, the strike rate he has scored at has been incredible to watch.”

Brook was elevated to replace the injured Jonny Bairstow, who scored belligerently during the home summer but was ruled out of England’s historic tour to Pakistan.

“He’ll (Brook) be giving the selectors, and me and (McCullum) a migraine,” Stokes said, joking about the next squad selection process, “So yeah thanks Brooky for the sore head.”

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