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Cricket: Five takeaways from England’s win over Pakistan

England’s 74-run victory in the first Test against Pakistan has already been described in some quarters as one of their greatest ever.

After a fifth day packed with tension and excitement, the tourists took the final wicket needed for victory with the light dying in Rawalpindi, sealing a memorable result with more than an echo of the famous win in Karachi in 2000.

It also set them up for the second Test of three, which gets under way in Multan on Thursday - with England at 7/4 to clinch the series there and then.

Headlines were made as early as the opening day when, for the first time in history, four batsmen posted centuries, England reaching a mammoth first innings total of 657 before the hosts responded strongly with 579 of their own.

The visitors declared on 264-7 in their second innings, setting Pakistan a victory target of 343.

The home crowd were treated to a sterling batting performance from Saud Shakeel, who top-scored in the fourth innings with 76 - after Abdullah Shafique, Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam all hit centuries the first time around - as a draw was approached.

Pakistan rallied after being left on 198-5 when Shakeel was caught off the bowling of Ollie Robinson, but a collapse saw them slide from 259-5 to 264-9 in eight overs.

Then, it was the job of Naseem Shah and Azhar Ali to bed in and stave off a hungry England attack, a feat that they managed for close to nine overs before the former was trapped lbw by Jack Leach.

Here are five conclusions we can draw from the last five days’ action.

Stokes’ positivity proves decisive

Make no mistake, England’s victory in Pakistan - just their third Test win in Pakistan since 1961 - was a team effort, but it was led by their captain’s thinking.

In Rawalpindi, Ben Stokes’ decision-making proved pivotal to England’s fortunes and provided the crowd - and those watching back home - with first-rate entertainment in the process.

A Test with all the twists of a thriller bestseller was won and lost on the skipper’s brave call to declare with a lead of less than 350. Such a tactic could well have blown up in England’s faces, but the new-found daring mentality fostered under Stokes’ command earned the tourists a win for the ages.

Array of bowling options gives balanced attack

The choice to attack, attack and attack some more on an unhelpful surface, coupled with imaginative fielding, played a major part in this memorable win.

A knee injury to part-time spinner Liam Livingstone looked to have heaped added strain on a limited line-up, but fine performances from Robinson, Leach and James Anderson changed the course of this Test match - with a commendation going to debutant Will Jacks, who took 6-161 in the first innings.

They were all helped by Stokes’ decision to keep his fields up all day to seamers and spinners alike.

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Baz-ball redefining Test cricket

Much praise can be heaped on England’s bowlers in Pakistan, but it must also be highlighted they were only in that position thanks to the hard work carried out with the bat.

Making 650 runs inside 100 overs was a spectacular feat on docile ground as Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Ben Duckett - on his first Test appearance in six years - and Harry Brook all hit centuries. No team has ever reached the likes of 506-4 on the opening day of a Test and there is a reason: ‘Baz-ball’.

The freedom of expression and loss of inhibitions given to England’s batters allowed them to break new ground, though there was no recklessness about their play; their unpicking of Pakistan was done with control and foresight.

Just as Eoin Morgan’s short-form side dared to do with the white ball, resulting in two World Cup wins, Stokes’ England are reimagining the longer game; no team that has played at least nine Tests has scored at a faster rate.

McCullum masterminding a turnaround

There can be no argument that the stewardship of Brendon McCullum has England turning a corner.

English Test cricket looked to be in a dark place after a flurry of four lost Tests in 2021, but if his team can push on to beat Pakistan in a series for the second time in three years, it will be fair to say a new age is dawning.

The whitewashing of New Zealand, the draw with India and the 2-1 win over South Africa - all at home - have meant that 2022 has spelled a resurgence.

Ashes remain the real test

But even if England go on to record a series win in Pakistan - and there remains work still to be done in the remaining Tests - the real litmus test comes in the summer, when Australia visit for the Ashes.

Across June and July, Stokes, McCullum and colleagues will learn how far England have truly come with the red ball, with memories of the 4-0 win for the Baggy Greens last time out still raw.

Australia remain the favourites for the series and can be backed at 1/1, with England priced at 11/8.

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