An England team batting like they are in something of a rush was hit by an immediate delay when travelling from Rawalpindi, scene of their seismic victory against Pakistan in the first Test, to bustling Multan.
As the press corps went by road through the Valley of Peacocks, Kallar Kahar, past the orange groves of Sargodha and the smoking brick kilns on the outskirts of Faisalabad, the two teams were stuck at the airport for nearly four hours on account of fog at their charter flight’s destination.
It may not be the last time fog proves an inconvenience. The second Test that is due to begin on Friday could face possible delayed starts to go with the early finishes caused by bad light. The last first-class match staged in Multan in December was 12 years ago.
Pakistan need to strike back instantly, of course, having been taken aback by the aggression England showed when racking up 921 runs from 136.5 overs in ’Pindi. Mohammad Rizwan, their wicketkeeper, marvelled at the “new style of cricket” the tourists have brought to Test cricket but that his teammates “cannot change overnight”.
That said, the inventive tactics and the sustained energy Ben Stokes mustered from his troops in the field is arguably the greatest feather in the captain’s cap. Not least when defending a target of 343 runs in four sessions on a road, with all but the last wicket to fall – Jack Leach winkling out last man Naseem Shah moments before sunset – claimed by the seamers.
Jimmy Anderson was otherworldly in the circumstances, match-figures of five for 88 from 46 overs as sublime as the freshly squeezed orange juice on sale by the roadside en route to Multan. But it was Ollie Robinson’s performance that will possibly have surprised a few people – not least in Australia, where, unprepared for the physical work, he blew a gasket during last winter’s Ashes.
Robinson just kept coming at the Pakistan batting, one half of the hostile and sustained bouncer barrage alongside Stokes on the fourth evening – Joe Root’s idea, as it happens – and then the game-breaker on day five. His removal of Azhar Ali and Agha Salman after tea came with the hosts were five down and 87 runs required.
The 29-year-old was never short of a word or two in the middle and displayed excellent use of the old ball when it began to reverse. While he burst on to the international scene during the summer of 2021, picking up 28 wickets in five Tests at 19 runs apiece, those fourth-innings figures of four for 50 from 22 overs represented a new level unlocked.
“Comfortably,” said Robinson, when asked if it topped his personal highlights. “With all the hard work I’ve put in, the dark places that I’ve been, to come here to Pakistan and [help] take 20 wickets on that pitch is my proudest moment as an England cricketer.
“I woke up [on the fifth morning] and I didn’t feel sore. That’s a great sign for where my body is at. I’m very proud of the work that I’ve done and the England backroom staff and how good they’ve been with me to get me to this place.
“The belief that we’ve got in this dressing room is unrivalled. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Robinson said that “after a couple of ice baths and a bit of treatment from the physio” he would be confident of backing this up in Multan. Mark Wood is also going to be in contention – he sent down rockets during the intervals of the first Test – giving Stokes a selection headache.
England may also face the Pakistan bowler Robinson revealed he sought out for advice during the summer, with overnight reports that Hampshire’s Mohammad Abbas may be called up to replace Haris Rauf, whose Test debut was ended after 13 overs by a thigh strain.
Abbas is the type of wristy, skilful bowler who may not mind misty mornings in Multan. But, even if even shorter playing hours do result, we already know how England will look to play him.