Test cricket at its compelling best

18 October 2015

Rashid literally turned the match on its head // Getty Images

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There's no sport like Test cricket when it produces dramatic finishes like the one seen in Abu Dhabi

About the Writer:

Chris Stocks is a freelance cricket writer based in London. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent and London Evening Standard.

If ever there was an example of the glorious unpredictability of sport then this bizarre first Test between Pakistan and England was it.

After four-and-a-half days of mind-numbingly torpid cricket, this contest in Abu Dhabi was heading towards the dullest of stone-dead draws.

Then suddenly, and joyously, it unexpectedly came to life.

Scorecard: Pakistan v England

At tea, Pakistan were cruising on 102 for three, with a maximum of 42 overs left in the day. They led by 27.

With seven wickets in hand and Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan sharing an unbroken fourth-wicket stand of 55, all Pakistan had to do was bat sensibly to see the game out to what looked like its inevitable drawn conclusion.

Just 16 wickets had fallen on the first four days of this match. With the much-criticised pitch finally showing some belated signs of life, four had fallen in two sessions on the final day.

What happened, though, was almost beyond belief as 11 wickets fell in a final session that lasted 31.5 overs.

Rashid takes one of his five wickets on an unpredictable day five // Getty Images

Adil Rashid, the leg-spinner who had shipped a record 0-163 in Pakistan’s first innings, proved the spark. The Yorkshireman’s dismissal of Younis Khan, who slogged sloppily to cover, gave him a first Test wicket.

Asad Shafiq gave him his second and after Moeen spun out Misbah and Wahab Riaz, Rashid mopped up the tail to take 5-63. It was the first five-fer for an England leg-spinner since 1959. Not a bad comeback for a player who had returned the most expensive debut innings figures in Test history three days earlier.

In all, Pakistan lost their final five wickets for 14 runs in 30 balls. Even by their erratic standards it was an implosion of spectacular proportions.

England, who had eked out a first-innings lead of 75 thanks to captain Alastair Cook’s mammoth 263, had dismissed their opponents for 173. Just 99 were needed for victory in 19 overs.

Bad light, though, ultimately denied them one of their greatest Test wins. They had fallen 25 agonising runs short. Eight overs were left unbowled.

Ben Stokes tried everything in England's pursuit of 99 // Getty Images

England, of course, had been denied by bad light in the final Test of the 2013 Ashes series at The Oval, called off the field 21 runs shy of victory.

Yet that opportunity had transpired only because of an uber-attacking declaration from Australia captain Michael Clarke.

This chance had been created solely by the brilliance of England’s bowling. It was some effort and although Cook admitted to frustration at the umpires’ interpretation of the light laws at the close, his team will enter the final two Tests of this series on the front foot.

Root and umpire Paul Reiffel discussing the light // Getty Images

The resurgence of Rashid was perhaps the most significant thing about this famous near miss.

Rashid, bowling with imagination and attacking verve, looked a man transformed once he had taken his first wicket.

Could he now play a significant role in the remainder of the series?

“To get his rewards like he did, and bowl like he did, really sped up the game,” said Cook.

"Full credit to him for having that character and confidence in his ability to not get too down on himself.

"I think you saw the weight of the world lift off his shoulders when he got that (first) wicket.

"As a captain, you always have a quiet word along the way. But it's not down to anyone else, it's down to him - sticking it out when it was tough and still having the ability and the confidence to rip his leg-spinner even when he hadn't got a wicket.”

There’s no doubt Rashid literally helped turn this game on its head and when all is said and done the thrilling, if ultimately disappointing conclusion, was another reminder that although Test cricket can often be a slow burner when it produces tight finishes like this there is no sport more compelling.

A debut to remember // Getty Images

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