England must keep home fires burning after Pakistan take command of first Test

Will Macpherson
England were skittled for just 184 on Day One of the first Test: REUTERS

Losing away from home in Test cricket is one thing. Losing at home is quite another. If they are to put memories of their dreadful winter behind them, England must get it right against Pakistan over the remainder of this game.

There is mitigation for losing on foreign soil. Conditions are alien, preparation is poor, tours are long and tiring things. Teams are finding life increasingly difficult in Test series overseas.

There is no excuse for losing on your own patch, though. England have won 16 of their past 24 Tests at home. Pakistan, it is worth remembering, have lost nine of their past 12 Tests.

Lose this and England cannot win the two-match series. As they were in New Zealand, they will be merely left scrambling for parity.

That would crank up the pressure on Joe Root, Trevor Bayliss (as Test coach, because the ODI side are flying) and the team ahead of five Tests against India later in the summer. That said, the one major positive to come out of day one for England is that at least Virat Kohli starts that series without his eye in as his planned stint at Surrey has been scrapped due to a neck injury.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves: back to this weekend and the task in hand. England are facing a superb, slippery attack in early season conditions well suited to them — expect there to be a green tinge about Headingley next week, too. Mohammad Abbas and his rubbery wrist and Dukes ball will be primed to exploit conditions there.

It is worth noting, too, as Alastair Cook did at stumps that, having bowled a team out in 58 overs many batting sides — perhaps, dare it be asked, even England’s — would have found themselves in trouble by the close.

(REUTERS)

Pakistan’s did not, although there was a let-off as Ben Stokes dived across Dawid Malan and dropped a catch.

So many have so much to play for over the next three days. Among the bowlers, Mark Wood is in sharpest focus. He needs wickets (that rare Stokes drop will have hurt) because his Test average cannot remain in the forties for long.

How they would long for more batsmen averaging in the forties. England have batted 14 times since they were last here, for the victory over West Indies, and been dismissed for 250 in half of them. That cannot last.

Mark Stoneman is the most obviously in trouble and knows he has little time to save his Test career. Malan is a curious English cricketer in that he looks so much better equipped to play the bouncing ball than the swinging one and thus looks more at ease in Australia than at home, where he is often caught on the crease with minimal foot movement. Both need runs, and fast.

Jos Buttler, too; the trouble with his first innings dismissal, caught flashing at second slip (an unfamiliar position for a batsman who seldom faces a red ball), was not so much the shot — that is the way he has been told to play — but its timing.

(Action Images via Reuters)

Stokes had surprisingly been dismissed lbw two balls earlier and Buttler had Dom Bess, a capable batsman, with him. Buttler has had a crazy few days but next time he gets a bat he must take a deep breath and remember where he is and what he is doing. England have taken a punt on him and that needs repaying. If it sounds obvious when the man has 12,000 Test runs, England must follow Cook’s example.

His feet moved better on day one than anyone else’s and he left as much as he could. His runs were ground out watchfully, as the conditions and the opposition demanded they were.

So for England this is a defining weekend. The rest of his Test match will say much about how they might handle the six still to come.

Pakistan’s players will not wear smart watches on the field again after anti-corruption officials visited the away dressing room yesterday and reminded them they are prohibited.