After all the sickness bug drama of the previous day, England did not so much head for the traps as positively fly out of them. Their first day of Test cricket in Pakistan for 17 years had the digits on the scoreboard in Rawalpindi spinning like the wheels on a fruit machine, the cherries appearing on the middle of English willow as a succession of records tumbled.
At the close, as the woozy winter sun made its final descent, the tourists had made a quite remarkable 506 for four from 75 overs and all those wondering how their new approach would fare on its first overseas assignment had an answer. Four centurions in a day for the first time – Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope and Harry Book – and all but one, Duckett, quicker than a run a ball. Their appetite was clearly unaffected.
Crawley’s 86-ball century en route to 122 from 111 was the fastest by an English Test opener, Graham Gooch’s 95-ball effort against India in 1993 surpassed. He and Duckett, 107 from 110 on his comeback, combined for England’s most bountiful opening session, reaching lunch 174 for no loss from 27 overs. The previous record, 169 for none at Trent Bridge in 1938, came from 42 overs, which sounds rather pedestrian by comparison.
But the feat that stood out most was collective, Pope’s 108 from 104 balls and Brook’s unbeaten 101 from 81 helping England eclipse Australia’s 494 for six against South Africa at Sydney in 1910-11 for the highest opening-day Test total of all time. Ben Stokes sealed it, heaving newcomer Mohammad Ali for six in an 18-run final over to walk off with 34 from 15.
This was a handy toss for Stokes to win, no question, and not simply because of the chino-beige road in front of him. Batting first allowed those still recovering from the virus outbreak extra time with their feet up, with only the stricken Ben Foakes missing out from the original XI as the wicketkeeping gloves were passed to the more part-time Pope.
But even considering the benign surface, only briefly transcended by Haris Rauf when he uprooted Crawley’s off stump after lunch with a beautiful reverse-swinging howitzer, this was some statement. It wasn’t slogging either, the first six of the day coming on the stroke of tea when Brook rocked back and muscled the leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood over midwicket.
Instead it was a display of controlled, positive strokeplay and some inventive sweeps – orthodox and reverse – from Duckett and Pope. England scored 73 fours on a lightning outfield, earning appreciative applause from an 8,000-strong crowd that had come from the bustle of Murree Road and passed the countless security checks en route.
No Foakes meant Will Jacks joining Liam Livingstone in making his Test debut but the newcomers were able to fondle their box-fresh blue caps all day. Crawley and Duckett amassed 233 for the first wicket inside 36 overs, their initial century opening stand taking 13.5 overs to become the speediest in England’s history. The previous best came during the new era, too, Crawley and Alex Lees needing 17.2 overs against South Africa at the Oval in September.
It was clear from the outset Crawley was comfortable, picking off 14 runs from Naseem Shah’s opening over and enjoying some short-arm pulls off Rauf. Indeed, bar one leg-break from Zahid that beat the outside edge, it was not until the right-hander was on 99 after lunch that his first heart-in-mouth moment came. Struck in front by Naseem and given out on the field, the review showed it was missing leg by a whisker.
Three balls later, Crawley was celebrating his third Test century, drilling Naseem through extra cover for his 19th four. Up in the England dressing room, as teammates rose as one in appreciation, the Rolling Stones were blasting out of Brendon McCullum’s hi-fi. Satisfaction? Yes, not least for an opener who spent most of the summer under the microscope.
At the other end Duckett also shrugged off the beast of burden that comes with opening for England, his first Test innings in six years delivering a maiden century as he pulled Haris square. It was a knock full of inventive manipulation and meaty cuts, the type Stokes was clearly expecting when he dubbed the diminutive left-hander “a captain’s nightmare”.
The afternoon was the most sedate, a mere 158 raided, and three wickets fell. After Haris delighted his hometown crowd with the wicket of Crawley – the 36-over old Kookaburra ball fleetingly moving sideways – the largely plundered Zahid trapped Duckett and Joe Root (23) lbw on the sweep. Root was at the recent Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and told Martin Brundle he wouldn’t mind batting on the track; he will have been fuming to miss out on the next-best thing.
Instead, from 286 for three in 46 overs, it was Pope and Brook who upped the ante after tea, trowelling 174 runs on to the total. Pope was princely and compact in compiling his third Test century from 90 balls, while Brook ensured Jonny Bairstow’s absence wasn’t felt. The Yorkshireman’s dash to an 80-ball maiden century – England’s third quickest – even featured six fours off an over of Saud Shakeel’s part-time spin as the Pakistan captain Babar Azam searched for answers.
Pakistan’s bowling figures were in flames by the close. Zahid had leaked 160 runs from 23 overs, while his fellow debutant Ali – the thriftiest – had largely stung like a butterfly until he finally jagged one into Pope’s pads. Every day of this historic Test match will be shortened by bad light but, like Withnail haring down the motorway from Penrith, England are making time.