London: England needed just three days at Leeds to exorcise their Lord's demonsand draw the two-Test series against Pakistan. In a stark reversal of roles from last week's first Test, it was Pakistan who failed in both innings to counter the swinging ball while England, so erratic at Lord's, were disciplined and focused, with every player contributing to a much-needed victory before the start of next month's five-Test showdown against India.
The tone was set on day one. Pakistan won the toss and, perhaps surprisingly, after exposing England's batting frailties at Lord's, chose to bat. The ball nipped around but Pakistan's batsmen chose to take the expansive approach, and this time England's bowlers located the edges.
After such stinging criticism at Lord's, James Anderson and Stuart Broad were irrepressible at Headingley, sharing six wickets in the first innings and combining for five in the second. They were not alone. Returning to the side after being overlooked at Lord's, Chris Woakes, with four match wickets, was an incisive third seamer, while the debutant
Sam Curran, offering youth and a left-armer's variations, picked up a wicket in each innings.England will be particularly emboldened by the selections of Jos Buttler and Dom
Bess. The former is well known to world cricket for his work in limited overs cricket
and after such a fruitful IPL it was a bold and imaginative move to see him recalled
to the Test side.
The selectors' intuition was well founded: Buttler top scored in the second innings at Lord's, and today returned the highest score in the match, an assured, distinctly Test-like unbeaten 80 ? an eighth fifty in 20 Tests. That elusive Test hundred is surely not too far away.
Towards the end of the innings as Buttler began to run out of partners he shifted from steady accumulation to expansive one-day mode. He hit two sixes: the first was hooked off his nose and the second, a magnificent straight six, lost the ball among the cables on the cameraman's gantry above the sight screen.Bess meanwhile has enjoyed a dreamlike start to his international career. A battling half-century at Lord's was followed by 49 as nightwatchman in England's first innings here. But after a nervy start with the ball in the first Test, he helped himself to four wickets at Leeds, with 3/33 in the second innings as Pakistan capitulated.
His first wicket in Test cricket was that of Imam ul-Haq, and the nature of the dismissal will give England cause for optimism as they seek to assemble an attack for the Indian challenge to come. Imam was beaten first on the outside edge ? a delivery that spun 5.6? ? before, two balls later, the wicket ball which turned just 1.1? according to CricViz, beating the forward block and cannoning into the front pad. Despite the Pakistan opener asking the question, the decision was never in any doubt.
Bess has already demonstrated sufficient ticker to suggest he belongs at Test level; now with the ball, he has begun to make a case for becoming England's frontline first-choice spinner. In the field too, he brings athleticism: the one-handed catch he snared at mid-off to remove Haris Sohail this afternoon was the catch of the series.
The dismissals of Imam and Sohail ? soon after the removal of Azhar Ali, whowill not want to revisit the shot that led to him being clean-bowled by Anderson ? presaged a steady stream of wickets as Pakistan's lower order threw the bat in futile desperation.
The series was rightly halved. Neither team will be comfortable with the extent to which they have lurched from assured to erratic, but both teams remain works in progress. Youth has marked this series: Curran and Bess debuting encouragingly for England; Babar Azam and Shadab Khan excelling for Pakistan.
Although Mickey Arthur was understandably frustrated at the end, he recognises that young teams will be liable to suffer bouts of inconsistency. "I think we've done a hell of a lot of good things in this series, I'm just disappointed at the final outcome. But we're on the right track. The talent that we have in that dressing room is phenomenal."
His team will leave England frustrated, but comforted by the knowledge that they remain unbeaten in their last four series against the hosts.(UNI)