England captain Stokes vows to push boundaries further in second Test

‘We might have to get even MORE adventurous’: England captain Ben Stokes vows to push the boundaries even further in Multan with fog set to shorten second Test against Pakistan

  • England captain may have to be creative and force a result in the second Test 
  • Fog and smog could shorten the second Test to 300 overs over five days
  • Stokes will settle for a draw only when all other options have been exhausted 

If England shredded Test cricket’s rule book in Rawalpindi, it could be nothing compared with the mayhem Multan may serve up in the next few days.

It is not so much that Ben Stokes’s team — who scored at an unprecedented 6.73 runs an over before winning the first Test by 74 runs — will go hell for leather once more. That is a given.

What makes the second Test even more intriguing is fog and smog so dense that the province of Punjab has imposed an environmental emergency, leaving Stokes to think about the possibility of having to force a result in as few as 300 overs.

England captain Ben Stokes may have to be creative and force a result in the second Test

England team (possible): 1 Zak Crawley, 2 Ben Duckett, 3 Ollie Pope (wkt), 4 Joe Root, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Ben Stokes (capt), 7 Will Jacks, 8 Ollie Robinson, 9 Mark Wood, 10 Jack Leach, 11 Jimmy Anderson.

Pakistan (possible): 1 Abdullah Shafique, 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Babar Azam (capt), 5 Saud Shakeel, 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wkt), 7 Agha Salman, 8 Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Faheem Ashraf, 10 Naseem Shah, 11 Mohammad Ali.

A normal five-day Test can include up to 450, but on Tuesday the Multan Cricket Stadium was shrouded in impenetrable mist at 9.30am, the time of the toss. Had this game been scheduled for last week, locals say play would not have begun until 1pm.

Stokes, looking relaxed after the heroics in Rawalpindi while his team-mates hit the golf course, sounded less concerned by any health issues than by the threat to his team’s chances of a 2-0 lead, a scoreline England have not had on eight previous tours of Pakistan dating back over 60 years.

And that may mean pushing the boundaries even further. Can they be more inventive than in Rawalpindi, where they scored like the clappers, bowled non-stop bouncers with the new ball and — in the case of Joe Root — batted the other way round?

‘We might see in this Test, if it does pan out the way it could, a late start and early finish,’ said Stokes. ‘We could end up having only 300-350 overs in the match. We might have to get even more adventurous with what we do.’

Adventurous Stokes will settle for a draw only when all other options have been exhausted

Like the giant cardboard cut-outs of England’s players that line the roads and dot the roundabouts near the team hotel, his side have instantly assumed a larger-than-life persona in Pakistan, where the reaction has mixed admiration with disbelief and a little dread. It has got to the stage where the captain’s philosophy is being tested by fanciful scenarios.

Would he, for instance, expect Jimmy Anderson to go for the runs if England needed 20 off the last over with one wicket in hand? He did not hesitate: ‘Yes.’ Would he expect those runs to come from five reverse-sweeps? ‘Yes.’

Fast bowler Mark Wood is likely to play in the second Test as Pakistan’s top order have looked vulnerable against the short ball

Partly, the bravado of Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum stems from the fact that both are assured of their place in the sport’s history. There is nothing to lose, only extra kudos to gain and their drive is proving infectious.

‘Finding a way to win like we did in Rawalpindi is going to fill everyone with a lot of confidence if the chance presents itself again to do something similar,’ said Stokes.

Their transformation from the tentative team who won one of Root’s last 17 Tests to the band of brothers who have won seven out of eight under Stokes, smashing records along the way, is one of the sporting stories of recent times.

And it is refreshing to hear an England captain in Pakistan speak about how to overcome local obstacles rather than moan about being thwarted by them. Stokes will settle for a draw only when all other options have been exhausted.

‘If it rains for four days, good luck trying to get a result,’ he said. ‘But if you get a good amount of time, I’ll always be trying to plan and talk to Baz about forcing a result.

‘In England, with the weather that’s around, you might see something even more “out there” than you’ve seen here. I might declare without batting one day, who knows?’

A giant cardboard cut-out of Stokes lines a street in Multan ahead of the second Test

For the moment, England have a Test to win and a team to pick — not easy when decisions may have to be made at the last moment, depending on the weather.

Mark Wood is available again and likely to play, not least because Pakistan’s top order — including captain and star batsman Babar Azam — looked vulnerable against the short ball in Rawalpindi.

‘It’s a lot better having someone bowling 150km/h bouncers rather than me, Robbo and Jimmy at 80mph,’ said Stokes. ‘Wherever you go, having someone at Woody’s pace is an absolute bonus.’

But he also talked up the wicketkeeping of Ollie Pope, who pulled off seven dismissals in Rawalpindi after Ben Foakes failed to recover from illness. If Wood is considered a swap for Liam Livingstone, ruled out of the tour by a knee injury, then England may not compromise on their bowling options and give Pope the gloves once more.

The dilemma facing Pakistan is how to stop the juggernaut. There is no great tradition of turning pitches in this country, but the stereotype persists in Asia of hapless English batsmen prodding and poking at slow bowlers.

It will be no great surprise if Multan offers more help to the spinners, although left-armer Mohammad Nawaz, an all-rounder, could replace Zahid Mahmood.

It will be even less of a surprise if England try to hit him into the street. ‘Test cricket has been pigeon-holed for so long,’ said Stokes.

In the next few days, the game may change before our eyes — assuming the fog does not get in the way.

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