As the Barmy Army trumpeter in the stands of the National Stadium played a rendition of Ghost Town in tribute to the late Terry Hall, England set about completing a historic 3-0 clean sweep in Pakistan to end a year which should perhaps earn them the tag of the Specials.
It took just 38 minutes for Ben Stokes and Ben Duckett to knock off the last 55 runs in their pursuit of 167, the latter cutting Mohammad Wasim Jr for a meaty four to seal the deal by eight wickets. So much for the notion of a tricky fourth-innings chase on the subcontinent, their blitz of 112 for two from just 17 overs the previous evening having made the final result a foregone conclusion.
According to Ollie Pope, Stokes was “all over the shop” in the dressing room during that frenzied bid to make it a three-day game, instructing all and sundry to get their pads on before it was pointed out he was yet to do the same himself. Even when the England captain emerged at No 4, kitted up, thankfully, he swung so hard at one delivery he sent his bat flying further than the ball.
These were the kinds of tales that England’s players could chuckle about on Tuesday afternoon as they began celebrating their achievements at the team hotel before the early flight home. Over the past three weeks – on the unfamiliar soil of Rawalpindi, Multan and Karachi, and amid a huge security detail – they have pulled off a quite remarkable feat in both planning and execution.
Pakistan suffered from the loss of Shaheen Shah Afridi and both Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf after the first Test. But England overcame challenges of their own to make it nine wins from their last 10, such as no Jonny Bairstow – their firestarter in the summer – and an awful sickness bug (trust me) which swirled around the camp all tour, making every day a lottery as to who would be firing on all cylinders.
It is here where England’s attitude, set by Stokes, should be noted. Never once did they gripe, even when it forced Pope to borrow Ben Foakes’s gloves to keep wicket, nor about pitches which attacks of old may have met with trepidation. Indeed, for all the attacking elan of their batters, who scored their runs at a record 5.5 per over to take draws off the table, it was the seamers who deserved most praise.
Led by the evergreen Jimmy Anderson (eight wickets at 18), with Ollie Robinson showcasing his skills with the old ball and Mark Wood offering game-breaking pace such as in Multan, they out-bowled their opposite numbers as England claimed all 60 wickets on offer. And this despite a 17-year absence from Pakistan that meant their knowledge of the conditions was minimal.
Reverse swing was harnessed where possible and the odd ball nipped off a crack, such as Anderson’s Multan masterpiece to castle Mohammad Rizwan. And despite not a single catch going to the orthodox slips off the quicker men, they conspired to make batting a chore for Babar Azam and his charges. Stokes, forever concocting fresh, inventive plans on instinct (he claimed), marshalled them superbly.
The same goes for his husbandry of a spin department that saw fingers crossed when the squad was named back in October. Jack Leach wheeled away for 15 wickets and some crucial interventions, while Will Jacks claimed a six-fer on the road of ’Pindi. Then came the third Test and arguably the story of the tour, the 18‑year‑old Rehan Ahmed shrugging off concerns about too much, too young with seven wickets on debut and a swagger that suggests plenty more could follow.
A natural googly bowler who has to work harder on his leg-break, Ahmed’s ball to nick off Rizwan was a magical moment. As was the sight of him dropping to his knees to perform sajdah after becoming the youngest debutant to claim a five‑wicket haul; like Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid before him, the hope now is this sparks imaginations among the next generation of British Asian cricketers in the UK.
It is no coincidence that Ahmed should look so at home in this setup, the head coach Brendon McCullum having fostered an ever-upbeat camp. Training is now optional, rather than a case of one-size fits all, with players trusted to know how much or how little work they need. In a country like Pakistan, which could have seen the anxiety of the pandemic tours return, it has proved a masterstroke.
So, too, has England’s empowerment of the naturally attacking batters produced by the white‑ball era. Duckett was a shrewd pick, ending a six-year gap between caps with 357 runs at 71 and an unbeaten 82 in the final chase, but there was no doubt about the player of the match and the series, Harry Brook’s third century in a record-breaking tour of 468 runs by an Englishman highlight his significant promise.
In fact, it says plenty that Joe Root produced just one half-century and that his main impact was with the ball. One look down the strike-rates is also telling, with only Foakes south of 85 (and his solitary 121-ball 64 in the third Test was crucial). Most teams around the world have dashers, like Travis Head for Australia or Rishabh Pant for India. The difference is, England are picking a team of them.
The upshot is that on flat pitches such as Rawalpindi, where they made 657 from just 101 overs first up, the canvas on which to take 20 wickets is broadened significantly. And on a trickier surface like Multan they were able to raid scores of 281 and 275, when past teams may have poked and prodded their way to far less.
It added up to a chastening experience for Pakistan, even if Saud Shakeel and Abrar Ahmed started their Test careers well. Babar’s captaincy is now the subject of debate in the country with New Zealand’s arrival for two Tests imminent, while there is a widespread expectation that, amid a desire for change from the prime minister’s office, Ramiz Raja will soon be moved on as chair of their board.
Pakistan has been wonderfully welcoming as a host country, as have the crowds, who eschew partisanship and simply celebrate the joy of Test cricket itself. Their team was simply the latest to be hit by a new‑wave England side which heads into an Ashes year with one instruction: enjoy yourself.