England toured Pakistan in 2022/23 for three Test matches, and swept the series 3-0. The reports by Nick Hoult, Lawrence Booth, Dean Wilson, and Vic Marks originally appeared in the 2023 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.

Review: Nick Hoult

England’s first Test tour of Pakistan for 17 years was a triumph – for the team, for their captain, Ben Stokes, and for the authorities who provided security that was tight, but never detracted from a generous welcome. Though troubled throughout by sickness, England produced groundbreaking cricket, thrillingly overturning the idea that attrition was the best route to victory on Pakistan’s lifeless surfaces.

They raced along at 5.50 an over – a record for a Test series – stunning their opponents with controlled aggression and breathless strokeplay, and rewarding a small travelling contingent of supporters with unforgettable performances. Challenged to rethink how to play on their own pitches, Pakistan had no answer, and England became the first team to whitewash them 3-0 at home. In doing so, they won more Tests in three weeks than they had on all their eight previous visits.

England’s batsmen scored six hundreds, four on the first day of the series alone, at Rawalpindi, where their 506-4 in 75 overs was the boldest of opening statements. One of the four centurions that day was Harry Brook, who scored two more before the series was out, and totalled 468 runs, the most by any England batter in a series in Pakistan. It suggested he could be a rock of the middle order for years to come.

Victory was achieved without major contributions – at least in terms of runs and wickets – from Joe Root or Stokes. Root was not at his best, though he too bought in to the new ways, twice taking guard left-handed in the first Test to disrupt the leg-spin of Zahid Mahmood. Stokes, meanwhile, could not have cared less that he took just one wicket or had a top score of 41. “The ambition to play entertaining cricket overrides any fear of failure,” he said. “No one is worried about getting out. When that fear of failure isn’t there, you’re not tentative, and you make better decisions.”

His captaincy galvanised everyone. As fast bowler Mark Wood put it: “I’d run through a brick wall for him.” Stokes never let the game drift, constantly fiddling with his fields to manufacture opportunities in benign conditions, and surprising Pakistan with his inventiveness and gambler’s instinct. “There’s maverick in it, and genius in a lot of it,” said England coach Brendon McCullum. Having claimed he was willing to risk defeat in order to achieve victory, Stokes was as good as his word, setting Pakistan 343 in four sessions at Rawalpindi, where the surface was so flat it yielded 1,768 runs, a record for a five-day Test, and earned the venue’s second ICC demerit point in nine months (later rescinded on appeal). Next day, his fielders were crowding the bat as the sun dipped below the stands on the final afternoon, before Jack Leach clinched victory by dismissing Naseem Shah with minutes to spare. “That was one of the greatest exhibitions of Test captaincy I have ever seen,” tweeted Nasser Hussain, the last English captain to enjoy a series win in Pakistan, 22 years earlier.

That Leach was even on the field was down to astute man-management. He had been one of several players to fall sick before the first Test when, amid talk of a four-day game, the virus threatened to delay the start. But Stokes cajoled him into playing, one of many shows of faith in his senior spinner. Keen to buttress his confidence, he often gave Leach the new ball and, even though his wickets cost 44 each, he made vital contributions, especially a burst of 3-0 to give England a crucial advantage in the third Test at Karachi.

Pakistan found it impossible to second-guess their opponents. At Root’s suggestion, Stokes himself opened the bowling on the fourth afternoon at Rawalpindi with Ollie Robinson, and unleashed a barrage of bouncers, quickly making inroads. James Anderson, England’s greatest bowler, was held back for when the ball began to reverse-swing, and finished with 4-36.

On the fourth day at Multan, with Pakistan 290-5, needing 65 to square the series, Stokes urged Wood to “Make a difference, change the game.” And he did, blasting Pakistan out with raw pace, including two crucial strikes just before lunch: first he removed Mohammad Nawaz, then he earned a big hug from Stokes when he got rid of Saud Shakeel, adjudged caught down the leg side by keeper Ollie Pope – a marginal call by third umpire Joel Wilson.

Shakeel had a profitable first Test series, passing 50 four times – as did Babar Azam, who hit the seventh hundred of the game at Rawalpindi. The fifth had come from Abdullah Shafiq, and the sixth from his opening partner Imam-ul-Haq, who missed Karachi through injury. All too often, though, the demise of Babar triggered the demise of his team, and collapses cost them dear: 5-9 on the last day at Rawalpindi, 8-60 and 5-38 at Multan, then 7-142 in the first innings at Karachi and 7-52 in the second. For the 37-year-old Azhar Ali, it was a series too far. He was dropped for the second Test, and announced his retirement on the eve of the third, not knowing if he would play. He did, but signed off with a four-ball duck. Of his 7,142 Test runs, which left him fifth on Pakistan’s list, only 715 had been made in his home country because of the decade-long exile in the UAE following the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009.

A bit of kidology helped England, too. Before the second Test, amid fears the game would be marred by fog and smog, Stokes said he would consider declaring without batting. The hypothetical scenarios grew more outlandish. Asked if he would tell Anderson, his No.11, to go for the runs if England needed 20 off the last over, he unhesitatingly said: “Yes”. According to Wood, the “alpha male” Stokes had matured, particularly in team talks: “I didn’t think he had some of the words in his locker.”

Anderson topped the averages with eight wickets at 18 from two Tests – his first in Pakistan – and built a compelling partnership with Robinson, who made up for the absence of Stuart Broad on paternity leave. Robinson played in all three – back-to-back – Tests, his fitness standing up like never before. He won the match award for his second-innings 4-50 at Rawalpindi, then at Multan competed with Wood and Anderson for the ball of the series, as they homed in on cracks in the pitch to mesmerising effect. Twice in that game Robinson bowled Babar – a first in Test cricket for Pakistan’s captain. At Karachi, he defied sickness and diarrhoea to put in a typically probing new-ball spell.

England’s quicks outbowled Pakistan, who at Multan did not take a wicket with seam for the first time in a Test since 1987/88 – though they were not helped by the absence of injured left-armer Shaheen Shah Afridi. But England’s spinners were also important. Will Jacks took a six-for on debut at Rawalpindi, even if he faded. Leach reached 100 wickets at Multan, before putting in his best performance at Karachi, where he was partnered by Leicestershire’s 18-year-old Rehan Ahmed, England’s youngest Test cricketer.

To pick a leg-spinner with three first-class games to his name was among the high points of their forward-thinking approach. That it felt inevitable by the final Test showed how McCullum and Stokes had changed the conservative mindset. Ahmed responded by becoming the youngest bowler of any nationality to take a five-for on debut.

The tour had started when the squad landed in Islamabad just hours after the culmination of a march on the capital by Pakistan’s former Test captain Imran Khan, who had been ousted as prime minister in April, and supporters of his Tehreek-e-Insaf party. Imran had survived an assassination attempt only weeks earlier, and the political instability led to a review of security and a possible switch of the first Test to Karachi. It remained at Rawalpindi, a short drive from Islamabad, but the security was unstinting, with the authorities closing roads for the team convoys, which travelled in bullet-proof buses and were guarded by heavily armed police.

Arrangements were at their most stifling in Multan, which had not hosted a Test for 16 years. While supporters and the media could travel freely elsewhere, nervous security officials here insisted on a police escort whenever anyone left their hotel, even for a 100-yard stroll to the local restaurant. In the past, the half-dozen gunshots exchanged by rival gangs near the team hotel the day before the game might have ended the trip, but now they led to nothing more than a few arrests. From the start, though, the players could venture no further than the venues and back, and this closed environment allowed the sickness bug to spread. England had taken precautions, travelling for the first time with a chef: Omar Meziane was a popular tourist, and prepared meals at the grounds, as well as the hotels. No matter: most players still fell ill.

Trips here were once a step into the unknown for English cricketers, but the Pakistan Super League had changed that, and the series took place in a friendly atmosphere, with several of the players team-mates at franchise level. Brook knew the conditions from his PSL exposure, while Ben Duckett’s dabs and reverse sweeps suited the lack of bounce. In his previous Test appearances, six years earlier, he had been told to block his way out of trouble against India’s Ravichandran Ashwin – with little success. Now, he could express himself. “If I’m looking to survive, then I’m pretty useless,” he said, having reached 50 four times in six innings, and averaged 71. His opening partnership with Zak Crawley showed promise, their styles complementing each other nicely: Crawley, upright and strong on the drive, the shorter Duckett ferocious on the cut and pull.

Pope continued to blossom at No.3, and followed a century in the first Test with two fifties. With Ben Foakes ruled out initially by the virus, then by team selection, Pope also kept wicket in the first two games, taking the burden in his stride. When Foakes returned at Karachi, he made a stubborn 64, as he and Brook batted Pakistan out of the match. Brook possessed the shots of a multiformat player, and the temperament of a Test cricketer, learning from a rush of blood in Multan against Abrar Ahmed, when he fell for nine – his only dismissal below 87.

Abrar, who mixed leg-breaks with side-of-the-hand googlies, was Pakistan’s most dangerous bowler, finishing with 17 wickets, including England’s first seven on the opening day of his debut, at Multan. He should have played in the first Test, but Pakistan were cautious, picking the 34-year-old Zahid Mahmood, who was hammered, and seamer Mohammad Ali, who was no better than county standard. The reselection of both for the Second compounded the error. A fourth successive home defeat – after Australia’s 1-0 win in March – and the humiliation of a whitewash precipitated change at the top. As England packed to go home, Ramiz Raja, the PCB chairman who had been appointed by Imran, his old captain, and had been a vocal critic of the pitches throughout the series, was removed from his post.

England, by contrast, had been popular from the moment Stokes announced he was donating his match fees – in all, close to £50,000 – to help victims of the Pakistan floods that had recently wrecked the lives of millions. The vibrancy of England’s cricket only added to the lustre, with crowds filling the grounds at Rawalpindi and Multan – though not at Karachi, where shambolic ticketing arrangements, and the demands of everyday life in a bustling city, left the stands all but empty.

Above all, McCullum had imbued his team with a sense of adventure, despite insisting he did “bugger all” for his money. Nine wins out of ten – England’s best sequence since 2004 – had been built on strong foundations laid by a coach and captain with a clear focus on what they wanted from their players. The result was intoxicating cricket – and one of their greatest results.

England touring party: BA Stokes (catain, Durham), R Ahmed (Leicestershire), JM Anderson (Lancashire), HC Brook (Yorkshire), Z Crawley (Kent), BM Duckett (Nottinghamshire), BT Foakes (Surrey), WG Jacks (Surrey), KK Jennings (Lancashire), MJ Leach (Somerset), LS Livingstone (Lancashire), J Overton (Surrey), OJD Pope (Surrey), OE Robinson (Sussex), JE Root (Yorkshire), MA Wood (Durham). Ahmed was not originally included, but was promoted to the squad after the warm-up match in Abu Dhabi. Livingstone injured his knee during the first Test, and returned home.
Head coach: BB McCullum. Assistant coaches: PD Collingwood, JS Patel, ME Trescothick. Strength and conditioning coach: P Sim. Performance support coach: MES Saxby. Doctor: A Biswas. Physiotherapist: SJ Griffin. Analyst: RJ Lewis. Team operations manager: AW Bentley. Head of communications: DM Reuben. Digital editor: GR Stobart. Security officers: W Carr, Y. Ali. Chef: O. Meziane.

At Abu Dhabi, November 23-24, 2022 (not first-class). Drawn. England 501-7 dec (79 overs) (Z Crawley 96, OJD Pope 146, KK Jennings 40, LS Livingstone 36, BT Foakes 48*, WG Jacks 84); England Lions 415-9 (77 overs) (H Hameed 145, TJ Haines 82, JA Haynes 36, MD Fisher 40*). There was no toss, and each squad batted for a day, ostensibly to hone their hitting skills. All the Test batters got a start except Joe Root, who was dismissed by Sussex off-spinner Jack Carson for nine. Ollie Pope’s 146 took 120 balls, and Will Jacks smashed 84 off 48. Rehan Ahmed bowled eight wicketless overs for 73, but the management felt he had enough promise to join the squad for Pakistan. For the Lions, Haseeb Hameed and Tom Haines opened with 179 from 37.4 overs, and Test hopeful Liam Livingstone returned figures of 8-0-80-2. The scheduled third day was abandoned in favour of net practice.

First Test at Rawalpindi, December 1-5, 2022: England won by 74 runs

England 12pts. Toss: England. Debuts: Haris Rauf, Mohammad Ali, Saud Shakeel, Zahid Mahmood; WG Jacks, LS Livingstone.

Report: Lawrence Booth.

Soon after the end of this mind-boggling match, it was easy to imagine normality had returned. A healthy crowd were heading for home and – acknowledging sunset – a muezzin’s call to prayer drifted over the ground. Yet many of the England players, busy with interviews on the outfield and wide-eyed at what they had just achieved, were still trying to take it all in. Where did the result sit in the pantheon of away wins? The consensus recalled football manager Brian Clough: “I wouldn’t say I was the best in the business. But I was in the top one.” This was an astonishing victory, quashing concerns about how England’s high-octane style might fare in Pakistan, and bolstering the suggestion that Test cricket might never be the same again.

Back on the first morning, after a bug swept through the camp, England had been unsure whether they could field an XI, let alone win, though in the event only Ben Foakes was too ill to play. By stumps that evening, they had butchered 506-4 off 75 overs, and boasted four individual centuries, unprecedented for any day of Test cricket. By the end of their second innings, they had totted up 921 at 6.73 an over. “We’ll do everything we possibly can to keep Test cricket alive,” said Stokes. No one could accuse his team of not walking the talk.

At tea on the final day, the game was fizzing with life, all right. Set 343 by Stokes’s daring declaration 24 hours earlier, Pakistan were 257-5, with the stand between Azhar Ali – shrugging off a blow to the finger from Robinson – and Agha Salman already worth 59. But England were creating chances, and the ball, changed in the 39th over, was reversing: between lunch and tea, they had bowled just one over of spin.

A year earlier, Robinson might not have managed another spell after tea. But here he kept charging in, trapping Salman on review in the fourth over, then having Azhar caught at leg slip in the sixth. The game entered its last hour, and Anderson had Zahid Mahmood athletically taken down leg by Pope, enjoying a good game as stand-in wicketkeeper. Two balls later, Anderson trapped Haris Rauf. But Naseem Shah knuckled down, and another factor entered the equation.

On the first four days, the short evenings of a northern-Pakistan winter had ended play between 4.37 and 4.54, lopping off a dozen or so overs each time. Rauf’s dismissal had come at 4.12. Moments later, Naseem edged Stokes between Pope and Root, at first slip: neither twitched. Then came a drinks break England could have done without. Pakistan’s No. 11 Mohammad Ali seized his chance, running off the field and into the pavilion. When he emerged five minutes later, England were ticking more furiously than the clock.

At 4.30, they took the new ball, nearly 15 overs after it had become available. Stokes completed his over, Robinson bowled another. Enter Leach, affected by the virus, and nursing match figures of 2-246. With everyone bar Robinson (mid-off) around the bat, his third delivery skidded into Naseem’s pads, and umpire Joel Wilson instantly said yes. England rejoiced, were made to wait by the inevitable review, then rejoiced again when DRS produced three reds. Their third win in Pakistan had been almost as dramatic as their second, in the Karachi gloom 22 years earlier. They had done it – at 4.36, in the nick of time.

The build-up to their first Test in Pakistan for 17 years had not been smooth, with talk of a bug-induced 24-hour postponement. But on the morning of the match ECB doctors Nick Peirce and Anita Biswas gave everyone bar Foakes a cleanish bill of health, creating room for Will Jacks to become England’s second debutant, along with Liam Livingstone, and their fourth spinner. The mood lifted further when Stokes won the toss, sparing himself and sickly colleagues a day on their feet.

It passed in a blur of boundaries – 76, more than one an over – as England exploited a flat pitch, a fast outfield and a raw attack including three of Pakistan’s four debutants, to bat with a freedom rarely seen at this level. They never slogged, at least not until Stokes crashed 34 off 15 deliveries: they simply hit the bad balls for four – there were a lot of bad balls – and the good ones for a single.

Records were incessant. Batting together for the first time, Crawley and Duckett – in his first Test for six years – brought up England’s quickest century opening stand, from 13.4 overs; by lunch, they had an almost absurd 174, another national record, though not for long. Crawley’s 19th four soon registered the fastest hundred by an England opener, from 86 balls (Graham Gooch needed 95 for the second of his two centuries against India at Lord’s in 1990). England’s highest opening stand against Pakistan (198 between Geoff Pullar and Bob Barber at Dacca, now Dhaka in Bangladesh, in 1961-62) fell too. Then came Duckett’s maiden hundred – at 105 balls, the day’s slowest.

The opening partnership was a study in contrasts: the tall, right-handed Crawley preferred the front foot; the short, left-handed Duckett had a penchant for the back-foot punch. It ended at 233 when Duckett missed a reverse sweep at leg-spinner Zahid, and Crawley followed next over, bowled by reverse swing from Rauf. The 39th was a maiden, the day’s first; when Root missed a sweep at Zahid, it was 286-3.

But England weren’t for slowing. At tea, they had 332, with Pope repeatedly finding the bat’s middle. He, too, brought up a hundred, from 90 balls, before falling lbw to Mohammad Ali, to end a stand of 176 in 25 overs with Brook, who had been catching him up. Brook had become the first England player to hit six fours in a Test over, off Saud Shakeel’s occasional left-arm spin (Ian Botham had also managed 24, off New Zealand’s Derek Stirling at The Oval in 1986, but with two sixes and a dot). Before long, Brook was also celebrating a maiden century, from 80 deliveries, in his second Test innings. Stokes’s late flurry, including 18 off the day’s last over, took them past 500 before darkness fell.

Next morning, they advanced to 657 – their highest against Pakistan, beating 598-9 at Abu Dhabi in 2015/16 – and Brook broke the record he had just equalled, carting Zahid for 27 in an over, before a fired-up Naseem had him caught at deep mid-wicket for 153 off 116 balls. Livingstone’s third scoring shot in Tests was a straight six, but he had just gone the same way. Later, he jarred his knee in the field, and flew home early – one of England’s few missteps all series.

Undaunted by the scoreboard, Pakistan responded strongly. Their openers had 181 by the second-day close, and both reached centuries next morning, before Abdullah Shafiq edged a wide one to gift Jacks his first Test wicket; an opening stand of 225 was Pakistan’s own highest against England. Imam-ul-Haq slogged Leach to long-on, but a large crowd seemed unperturbed: it meant the arrival of Babar Azam. Leach trapped Azhar shortly before lunch, taken at 298-3. Pakistan had batted for 83 overs to get there – perfectly respectable, but 270 adrift of England at the same juncture. They might have been playing different sports.

Just before tea, Babar became the game’s seventh centurion, and at the break his team – 411-3 – looked as if they could edge ahead. England had scored so quickly that Pakistan would have had time to bat normally and claim a useful lead. Instead, four wickets fell that evening and, despite a half-century from Salman, Jacks finished Pakistan off to take 6-161, his maiden first-class five-for.

England led by 78 with a little over five sessions left, and wasted no time extending it, despite the first-over loss of Duckett and the swift demise of Pope, top-edging a hook. Crawley became the first England player to make two fifties in a Test at better than a run a ball, and Root twice took guard as a left-hander to combat Zahid’s line outside leg stump. From the second ball, he was dropped by Naseem at point. Or was it square leg? England were having fun, even as wickets fell – Root for 73 off 69, Stokes for a third-ball duck. Brook and Jacks mauled 56 in five overs, before Brook was bowled for 87 off 65, to trigger tea and the declaration. A breathless session had produced 218 runs in 28.5 overs.

Some feared Stokes had pulled out too early, but his calculation had logic. On a surface so heartless it was being openly bad-mouthed by PCB chairman Ramiz Raja, Stokes decided his best chance was to keep Pakistan interested. It was bold and it was brilliant. And England continued to innovate, aiming short with the new ball after Root pointed out in the dressing-room that a conventional length had led to both sets of openers putting on over 200 – another Test first.

In 20 overs that evening, Shafiq was caught at deep backward square off Robinson, who then forced Azhar to retire hurt second ball by cracking him on his index finger, and Stokes had Babar caught behind for four, fending lamely at another bouncer. Keaton Jennings, on as a substitute, dropped Shakeel at short leg on 22 off Leach, and Pakistan closed on 80-2, setting up a last-day blockbuster.

Anderson strangled Imam down leg in the day’s sixth over, but Shakeel and Mohammad Rizwan counter-attacked against spin, and after lunch Stokes went with seam. Rizwan nibbled at Anderson to make it 176-4, and Shakeel – on 76 – drove Robinson to Jennings, who redeemed himself with an acrobatic catch at extra cover: 198-5. Tension mounted: Salman missed a sweep against Leach and was given lbw, only for technology to have the ball going over the top; Pope dropped Azhar down the leg side off Robinson.

Tea was a jangle of nerves, on both sides. But England came out the stronger, and Pakistan’s innings went the way of the setting sun, their last five falling for nine. “The lads are saying that is the best away victory,” said Anderson, adrenalin pumping after bowling 22 overs on the last day. “But I can’t remember many better at home either.”

Player of the Match: OE Robinson.

Second Test at Multan, December 9-12, 2022: England won by 26 runs

England 12pts. Toss: England. Debut: Abrar Ahmed.

Report: Dean Wilson.

Alexander the Great needed four months to capture Multan in 325 BCE, and was hit by an arrow that nearly killed him. It took Ben Stokes three and a half days, despite a touch of flu. By presiding over victory in perhaps the region’s most ancient city, he achieved what no cricketing general from English shores ever had – a second successive Test win in Pakistan, and the chance of a whitewash.

England had won only two Tests here since their first visit, in 1961/62, so victories were now coming along, if not like buses, then like camels – with herds sighted daily on the journey from the city centre to the stadium. It was a journey on which all non-Pakistanis were accompanied by heavily armed security personnel, because of the area’s military importance, and to ensure foreign visitors remained safe. The week passed without a hitch, as England overcame the restrictive nature of their existence, and the remnants of a virus that had laid many low, to reverse almost exactly the 22-run defeat they had suffered in their previous Test at Multan, 17 years earlier.

Victories in Pakistan had perhaps been hard to come by because England had sometimes needed to defeat as many as three foes: the opposition, the conditions and, occasionally, the officials. And while the umpiring was no longer an issue, the first two remained a challenge. At Rawalpindi, Pakistan had picked the wrong team. Here, they selected a new mystery spinner whose nickname in domestic circles – Harry Potter – hinted at his wizardry. Abrar Ahmed, wearing spectacles and an impish grin, was one of three changes: Fahim Ashraf and Mohammad Nawaz both returned, while Azhar Ali was dropped, and fast bowlers Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf were both injured. But it was Abrar who made the greatest impression, finishing with 11-234, the second-best figures by a Pakistani debutant, behind Mohammad Zahid, who took 11-130 against New Zealand at Rawalpindi in 1996/97.

“Abrar-cadabra!” was a headline used more than once, though he insisted: “I’m no magician. I have just done my job.” Despite his brilliance, which brought him the first seven wickets on the opening day, he and his colleagues continued to leak runs. The pitch was not as benign as Rawalpindi, but still looked batter-friendly when the captains met for the toss. And it was why Stokes again chose to bat, when his preference during the summer had been to bowl. Meanwhile, Pakistan assistant coach Mohammad Yousuf had arrived in Multan early, to monitor pitch preparation: sure enough, there was turn from the start.

Another factor was expected, but never materialised: early-morning fog and smog, potentially delaying the start. Stokes had been so spooked by footage of low visibility that he thought the game might be limited to 300 overs rather than the scheduled 450. His worries were misplaced, but encouraged England to weigh up how best to take 20 wickets as quickly as possible. With Liam Livingstone back home after injuring his knee, they turned to the pace of Wood, rather than to a batter or the uncapped leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed. In a bid to avoid weakening the batting further, part-time wicketkeeper Pope retained the gloves, despite Ben Foakes’s recovery from illness.

England flew out of the traps, keen to make an impact before Abrar bamboozled them. They had mixed success. Crawley was bowled by Abrar’s fifth ball, playing round a googly, before Duckett and Pope counter-attacked in a stand of 79 in ten overs, sweeping and reverse-sweeping to their hearts’ content. From 117-1, though, England reached lunch at 180-5, in a session extended by half an hour because of Friday prayers. Abrar had all five: Duckett, who missed a sweep, and Root, trapped on the back foot, both fell lbw on review; Pope spooned a reverse sweep to backward point, before Brook skyed to mid-off.

After the break, Abrar made it seven out of seven, bowling Stokes with a beauty that spun across him, and pinning Jacks, who also missed a sweep. His fellow leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood claimed the last three, to foil hopes of a debut ten-for, though not before Wood slashed eight fours in 27 balls, and helped add 36 for the last wicket. England had reached a respectable 281, at a dizzying 5.43 an over. Abrar finished with 7-114, the best by a Test debutant since South Africa’s Kyle Abbott took 7-29 against Pakistan at Centurion in 2012/13.

England, though, believed conditions would worsen, and were heartened by the cheap removal of Pakistan’s openers. But by stumps Babar Azam and Saud Shakeel had taken the score to 107, and they added a further 35 next morning, before the game changed. Despite removing Shakeel twice in the first Test, Robinson was not introduced until the 35th over, with Stokes sensing a hint of reverse swing. His second ball shaped in to Babar, then hit middle and off, opening up an end – and the Test. From 142-2, Pakistan slumped to 202 all out by lunch, amid a curious mix of passivity – Mohammad Rizwan didn’t score until his 28th ball – and fatal misjudgment. Leach snapped up four, including his 100th (Shakeel). Root grabbed two in an over, and Wood the final couple, giving England a priceless lead of 79.

There were no prizes for guessing how they set about extending it, although Crawley let ambition get the better of him, beaten by Abrar’s direct hit from mid-on as he chanced a single. With Pope given a rest after his exertions behind the stumps, Jacks was promoted to No.3, but couldn’t connect with a heave at Abrar. Duckett and Root added 54 to ease English concerns, before Abrar removed Root thanks to an outstanding one-handed catch by Abdullah Shafiq at short leg. Abrar was briefly denied his tenth of the match soon after tea – Babar dropped a sitter at mid-wicket to reprieve Duckett on 69 – but got there by bowling Duckett for 79 with one that kept low. Pope emerged at No. 6, but he too was run out, sent back by Brook after failing to beat Nawaz at extra cover.

At 155-5, England led by 234, and were grateful that Brook and Stokes prevented further loss by the close, with Brook on 74. They remained untroubled on the third morning, when Brook pulled Nawaz for four to complete a century that oozed temperament as much as technique. Stokes lifted Abrar on to the sightscreen to join Brendon McCullum on a Test-record 107 sixes, but perished for 41 in search of his 108th, well caught on the boundary by Mohammad Ali as he swung hard at Nawaz. That ended a stand of 101, and was the cue for some careless batting, as England lost 5-19, including Brook for 108, mowing Zahid to deep midwicket. The target was 355, which was 40 more than Pakistan had made to win a Test at home. But, with over eight sessions left, time was no issue.

By lunch, with Rizwan opening in place of Imam-ul-Haq, who had hurt a hamstring, they were 64-0. But England’s fast bowlers grabbed hold of the game with a succession of jaffas. First Anderson bowled Rizwan with the fifth ball of the afternoon, hitting off stump with one that swung in, then straightened off a crack. If that was unplayable, so too was the delivery with which Robinson skittled Babar for a single, jagging back extravagantly as he offered no shot. When Wood produced a beauty to bowl Shafiq for 45, Pakistan were 83-3, and seemingly out of it. Had Jacks not put down a return catch off Imam, who had come in at No.5, on 19, the game might have finished that evening. Instead, England had to wait until shortly before the close for their next, Imam driving Leach to slip, to depart for 60. Stumps arrived at 198-4, with both sides fancying their chances.

Root removed Ashraf early next morning – his 50th Test wicket – but again Pakistan rallied, reaching 290-5, already the highest total of the match, as Shakeel and Nawaz knuckled down. With three overs until lunch, and England desperate, Stokes turned to Wood, and asked him to aim short and leg-sidish. It worked a treat, with Nawaz soon feathering one to Pope. And, when Shakeel succumbed in similar fashion for 94, the game really did feel up. Pakistan were unimpressed by the decision: Pope’s gloves were apart as he took the catch, with replays suggesting the ball had touched the grass as he moved low to his right. Yet TV umpire Joel Wilson declared: “His fingers seem to be under the ball.” His verdict arguably cost the match.

Abrar did his best after the break, thrashing a quick 17 before slapping Anderson to cover, and it was 319-9 when Wood inflicted a pair on Zahid. Three overs later, Robinson had Ali caught behind, leaving Agha Salman to sink to his knees at the non-striker’s end, and England to celebrate another momentous win.

Player of the Match: HC Brook.

Third Test at Karachi, December 17-20, 2022: England won by eight wickets

England 12pts. Toss: England. Test debut: Mohammad Wasim, R Ahmed.

Report: Vic Marks.

England were already in uncharted territory on arrival in Karachi – two up and unassailable – but were not tempted to ease off. Instead they remained committed to the headlong pursuit of a 3-0 win, never achieved by a team visiting Pakistan, and ticked it off with their most emphatic victory of the series. Yet again, England seemed to gleefully defy history one moment, then make it the next, with Stokes the puppeteer, pulling all the right strings in the field, where he must have orchestrated the record number of changes in a three-match series.

They won after 38 minutes on the fourth morning, which was just about his only disappointment. For no obvious reason – except that it might be fun – he had been determined his side should chase down their target of 167 before stumps the night before, when 17 overs were possible. Crawley and Duckett had begun with a torrent of boundaries, but a couple of wickets and fading light postponed England’s celebrations.

Such had been their confidence after clinching the series at Multan that they were content to rest James Anderson, who had tormented Pakistan’s timorous batsmen in the first two Tests, and to replace him with the wrist-spinner Rehan Ahmed. At 18 years 126 days, he became England’s youngest Test cricketer, ousting Brian Close, who had been 23 days older when he faced New Zealand at Old Trafford in 1949. Ahmed had appeared in just three first-class matches for Leicestershire, making him his country’s least experienced player since Alfred Archer made his first-class debut against South Africa at Cape Town in 1898/99. Yet, given England’s derring-do, it was no great surprise he should snatch 5-48 in Pakistan’s second innings, after two valuable wickets in the first. This was a stunning debut by any standards, though there was no argument that Brook, who cracked his third century in three Tests, should be Player of the Match. England’s other change was more pragmatic. Foakes, their specialist wicketkeeper, returned, allowing Pope – who had kept so well – to resume his more normal position under the helmet at boot hill. Will Jacks was left out.

For Pakistan, Azhar Ali was recalled a few hours after announcing he would retire from international cricket at the end of the match. He was denied a dream departure, scoring 45 and nought, but the warmth of the tributes to this gracious servant of Pakistani cricket, who had waited almost decade to play a Test on home soil, spoke for itself. He still loved the game, and was planning to return to Worcestershire in 2023 – another example of how positively some of the great overseas players view county cricket.

Shan Masood came in for his first Test of the series, after Imam-ul-Haq failed to recover from hamstring trouble, while slow left-armer Nauman Ali replaced the erratic leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood. Mohammad Wasim was handed a debut at the expense of fellow seamer Mohammad Ali, who had toiled with little joy in the first two Tests. Mohammad Nawaz also missed out.

The pitch in Karachi was typically grey and devoid of grass, with a mosaic of cracks visible on the first morning. The surface offered some turn from the start, though it refused to deteriorate significantly. So slow bowlers on both sides were busy, accounting for 26 of the game’s 32 wickets. Four fell to the pacemen, and there were two run-outs, involving both captains – only the fifth such instance in a Test. For Pakistan it was especially devastating.

For the first time in the series, Babar Azam won the toss and enjoyed the advantage of batting. Leach became the first England spinner to share the new ball in the first innings of a Test since Jack White, another Somerset slow left-armer, against Australia at Headingley in 1921, and soon despatched Abdullah Shafiq, lbw propping forward. Masood and – on the stroke of lunch – Azhar fell to leg-side catches off the quicks, but Pakistan were rallying by the time Ahmed was summoned for his second spell. His first had been tentative and expensive, 37 coming from five overs. But he relaxed in the afternoon, and was rewarded with two classic dismissals. Saud Shakeel was caught at short leg by Pope after edging on to his pad, to make it 162-4. Then, after tea, a perfectly pitched googly – Ahmed’s most natural delivery – had the left-handed Fahim Ashraf leg-before.

In between, Babar progressed effortlessly, until he was slow to respond to a tight call from Agha Salman. Brook’s throw from square leg was deftly taken by Foakes, even if he inadvertently dislodged a bail with his elbow as he gathered the ball. Crucially, though, he removed the other with Babar still three inches short. Again, his departure left the door ajar for England, and signalled doom for a batting side too dependent on him. Leach wrapped up the innings, and Pakistan’s eventual 304 felt short.

England’s response was not smooth, but it was vigorous. Crawley was trapped by Abrar Ahmed for a duck on the first evening and, next morning, after Duckett was pinned on the back foot by Nauman, Root edged his first ball to slip. It was a reminder that England had scored plenty of runs without significant contributions from their best player. Indeed, in this series Root bowled 231 more balls than he faced.

Pope was bowled for 51 by one from Abrar that pitched leg and hit off and, when Stokes found himself at the same end as Brook after a terrible misunderstanding over a third run soon after lunch, England were 145-5. Stokes stalled on his way back to the pavilion to have a quick word with his partner – not to chastise him, but to tell him to forget the incident, and carry on. Brook did just that.

He unfurled arguably the best of his three Test centuries, from 133 balls. The match had been in the balance when Stokes departed but, after a nervy 15 minutes, Brook regained composure and attacked the spinners with authority but discretion. He and Foakes, whose strike-rate of 52 felt almost nostalgic, put on 117, before cameos from Wood and Robinson ensured a first-innings lead of 50 against a Pakistan attack leaning too heavily on Abrar. Brook’s dismissal for 111 left him with 468 runs in the series, the most for England in Pakistan, beating David Gower’s 449 in 1983/84.

Wickets fell in clusters in Pakistan’s second innings. On the third morning, 53 without loss became 54-3, all to Leach, not via prodigious turn but the more common source – batsman error. Masood underedged a reverse sweep on to his stumps. Azhar yorked himself as he shimmied down the pitch, and walked off to a guard of honour on the boundary from team-mates. Shafiq was again lbw defending a straight ball. Once more, though, Babar looked untroubled, alongside the adhesive Shakeel.

A smidgen of reverse swing prompted Stokes to keep an eager Ahmed waiting. Eventually, he was summoned to bowl the innings’ 51st over, and Babar met his introduction with a cover-drive for four. Then Ahmed delivered a speciality of so many wrist-spinners – the lethal long hop. Babar was quickly in position for the pull, but he could only pick out Pope at midwicket, ending a fourth-wicket stand of 110.

Unsurprisingly, Pakistan’s resistance faltered. A perfect leg-break from Ahmed brushed the bat of Mohammed Rizwan, and Shakeel top-edged a sweep just before tea. Where Leach had earlier picked up 3-0 in six balls, Ahmed had 3-9 in 17. Root winkled out Ashraf in the second over of the final session and, after polishing off the innings with two more simple scalps, a beaming Ahmed led England from the field, acknowledging the applause of his new team-mates and the Barmy Army. No English teenager had previously taken a five-wicket haul in a Test match. Up in the stands, his father, the Pakistan-born Naeem, looked on proudly.

England knocked 87 off their target of 167, before Crawley was lbw to Abrar in the 12th over. Out came Ahmed, England’s “nighthawk” in the absence of Stuart Broad, and he blasted two fours before trying to launch Abrar towards the Arabian Sea. Stokes promoted himself to No. 4, and at one point attempted to hit the ball so hard his bat flew fully 30 yards towards square leg. At stumps, England had to settle for 112-2, with Duckett registering a 38-ball half-century. On the fourth morning, he purred along, ensuring a swift and comfortable victory, while Stokes again tried but failed to surpass Brendon McCullum’s sixes record.

Afterwards, it was all smiles. “We are just going out and enjoying every moment we can, whatever situation we find ourselves in,” said Stokes. It all sounded so simple. But it wasn’t. Why hadn’t anyone tried this before? Perhaps they had. Similar sentiments have been expressed by coaches and captains of the past, but few teams have ever really believed them. By the end of this series, it was clear England did believe. This was their ninth win in 10 Tests – a magical run. England fans were in the mood to enjoy it while they could.

Player of the Match: HC Brook.
Player of the Series: HC Brook.