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Exclusive: Ian Bell on England's win over Pakistan

What an incredible Test match we’ve just seen. It’s certainly right up there with England’s all-time great Test victories away from home. 

I can’t think of one quite so dominant in the subcontinent, and I would say in terms of away wins, it’s certainly got to be in the top three. 

You look at some Ashes away wins, which would be right up there as well, but in terms of the style in the subcontinent, I don’t think I can remember one off the top of my head. 

We were lucky enough to win Test matches in the 2010/11 Ashes and a series in India in 2012, but to watch that and see them adjust to conditions so quickly as well was very impressive.

The early declaration wasn’t a very popular decision at the time, but if I’m being honest, being around the England Lions in the last month, and then a week or so with Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes, there’s a very clear message, and this is going not just for the Test side, but for the whole of English four-day cricket. 

It’s not about setting up and playing for the draw first, it is to play for the win at all times. If the draw happens, it happens, but it won’t be at the cost of going for a win, and I think that’s the clear message. 

I think what Ben is doing incredibly well is that he’s living up to what he’s saying. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure along the way there will be a bump in the road or two, but everything’s gone amazingly well so far. I’ve just been watching Australia against the West Indies, and when that comes around in the summer, it’s going to be fascinating.

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Marnus Labuschagne is now into three hundreds on the bounce, Steve Smith looks back to his best. There’s obviously bigger challenges in terms of quality coming, but what I think is amazing is the fact that they are willing to say it and then go and deliver it. 

That’s the beauty of it, and I think from a fan’s point of view, would you rather watch an England side having a go for the win, similar to what New Zealand did a couple of years ago when they declared setting England nearly 270? It was a relatively generous declaration, and they didn’t even have a crack at it. 

This is a really interesting time of Test match cricket. It’s not all about slogging, it’s not teeing off, it’s playing in your own way but finding ways to put pressure on the opposition, but always looking for a win and not looking for a draw. 

Yes, the tactic could have backfired and may still backfire in the future, but there’s some real clarity there. I think that’s the best thing about it. If you’re a player now, you’ve got real clear leadership from the top how we’re going to play, and the players are on board, and there’s no doubt. 

Credit has to go to the bowlers; I know there’s a lot of talk about the batting and the amount of runs, but they were very batter-friendly conditions, against, without disrespecting Pakistan, a very lightweight Test match attack. 

They put so much pressure on Pakistan, and we saw Babar Azam get 100, who’s world class, but they really did put a young, inexperienced Test side under a lot of pressure. 

Same in the summer?

It does beg the question whether Stokes would make a similar decision in the Ashes, and I don’t see why not. 

Why would you do it in one Test match and not in another? I know it’s an Ashes series and there’s a lot more on the line, emotionally and historically, but it’s another Test match at the end of the day, and you’ve got to play it that way. 

They’re looking to win and not to draw. That will be the proof, and that’s a slightly bigger call. 

What I would say, Australia had to be brave when they won the series in Pakistan. They didn’t do it in the first two Test matches but they did it in the last one, where again, all results were possible going into the last day. 

It was a similar declaration, setting 350, and Pakistan could have won that one as well.

When you’ve got that many runs in the last innings, a side is going to have to play incredibly well without any real bumps in the road to knock that off. I think England basically said to Pakistan, let’s see if you’re good enough, and they weren’t good enough on that last day.

Wood raring to go

Ollie Pope will retain the gloves after his century in the first innings, and it’s tough on Ben Foakes. But for being ill, he would have definitely played. In a way – not for Foakes – it was a little bit of a blessing for England because it allowed them to balance the team incredibly well. 

It’s a shame for Liam Livingstone that we don’t get an opportunity to see him more often in that format and see what he can do; I think conditions suit his style of play, but it allows them now to slot in our quickest bowler in Mark Wood. 

From England’s point of view, what an opportunity now; he’s rested and fresh going into a match where they’ll use him in short bursts, expecting another pretty flat pitch, maybe will it turn a little bit more? 

I didn’t see anything from the Pakistan spinners that would cause a huge amount of nightmares for England batting. It’s not like going to India where they have world class spinners in Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja. It’s good spin but it’s not world class. 

I think England will go into this massive favourites. I did see something about the amount of overs that might be bowled in this Test match, and England might have to be even more aggressive. I think that’s a nice line to say, but I think the blueprint of the last Test match is very much how they’ll go again. Those first days, if the wicket has got nothing to offer for the bowlers, they’ll be as aggressive as possible, knowing that they’ll have another opportunity down the line when the game speeds up a bit more. 

No Shaheen Afridi, who’s obviously world class, is a massive blow for Pakistan. They probably do need the ball moving; that would be a great example for people who haven’t been in the subcontinent, if the ball doesn’t move sideward in the air, whether that’s spin or reverse swing, it’s a great place to bat. Where the hardest part is if the ball is moving in the air, which England managed to do at the back end of the game, to get the win. 

You’d think for Pakistan, they’d need that ball moving knowing that if they can’t get it reversing and it goes straight, then England will be on the full attack as they were in Test match one. 

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