It’s 22 years since England last visited Karachi, and Nasser Hussain’s team pinched the spoils in the dark from under Pakistan’s nose.
The circumstances are different now, but the stakes remain high. Victory for Ben Stokes’s team would make them the first to leave this country with a 3-0 win, and burnish the Bazball legend still further.
It’s one thing to have wrapped up the series with a game to play, in the process doubling the number of England wins in Pakistan since their first trip 61 years ago. But a whitewash would count among the greatest results by any visitors to any part of Asia.
England can make history with a third victory over Pakistan having won the first two games
Stokes mentioned the 3-0 win in Sri Lanka four years ago, when England’s ‘total cricket’ was as adventurous as things got under Joe Root. But he knows the same scoreline here would trump even that, and provide the perfect end to a Test year in which England have gone from laughing-stocks to revolutionaries.
For their next trick, they are set to bring in Leicestershire’s leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed, who at 18 years 126 days would be England’s youngest Test debutant – 23 days younger than Brian Close when he played against New Zealand at Old Trafford in 1949.
Ahmed’s prospects of a first cap have improved because Pakistan want a turning track to help their own Ahmed, mystery spinner Abrar, who took 11 wickets on debut in Multan. Despite the excellence of their captain and batting talisman Babar Azam, Abrar feels like their likeliest route to a consolation victory.
England’s Ahmed, meanwhile, has played just three first-class matches, but Stokes and Brendon McCullum like what they have seen, with Stokes plumping up his all-round credentials by claiming to be unsure how to categorise him: a leggie or a batter? Ahmed’s 10-ball 26 for the Lions against the senior side during the pre-tour camp in Abu Dhabi has clearly left an impression.
Youngster Rehan Ahmed is set to step into the fray for the final match against Pakistan
‘I don’t think this would be a case of giving caps away,’ said Stokes. ‘We picked him in the squad not just because of his talent, but because we thought it would be a good opportunity to play him if we thought it was necessary.
‘Having a wrist-spinner is always exciting, especially for England, but it’s not getting too carried away with the potential that he has. You’ve still got to nurture talent, however exciting it is.’
If Ahmed plays, that could be bad news for Will Jacks, who took a six-for with his off-breaks on debut in Rawalpindi, but faded in Multan, where he bowled eight wicketless overs. That would leave Ahmed to slot in at No 7. A century in his most recent first-class knock, against Derbyshire in September, means he should not be daunted.
However much the pitch turns, England won’t be fazed, having won on the flattest surface imaginable in Rawalpindi, and overcome the challenge posed by Abrar in Multan.
Ahmed will become the youngest player to make an appearance for England in Test cricket
They have taken all 10 wickets in every innings so far under Stokes and McCullum, and intend to finish the year with a ninth win in 10 – their best sequence since 2004.
‘The confidence these two games have given our seam bowlers in particular is massive,’ said Stokes. ‘I don’t feel there has been any stage that we have drifted as a bowling unit, where sometimes we might have done in the past.
‘And it wasn’t just me coming up with ideas of how to take a wicket. Everyone was coming up to me, saying try this, try that.’
All the while, he has been wringing performances out of the 40-year-old Jimmy Anderson – so much so that he is averaging less than 18 since Stokes took over, the lowest figure for any of his eight England captains during a career stretching back nearly 20 years.
With Joe Root this week celebrating a decade as a Test cricketer, Stokes has been getting the best out of two of England’s all-time greats.
Ben Stokes has spoken highly of England’s chances ahead of the third game with Pakistan
‘I don’t know how long Rooty’s got left, but I can’t see him stopping any time soon,’ he said. ‘Jimmy is an unbelievable example for me and Rooty, being 40 and playing 177 Tests – that’s seriously something. We don’t know how he keeps doing it. But I can see Joe playing for something similar to Jimmy.
‘His body management in particular is so good – he knows what he needs to be ready. He’s looked after himself very well these last five years, which is allowing him still to play. Maybe when I get to 35, I’ll ask him what he’s been doing.’
For the moment, England want to take advantage of Pakistan’s fragile confidence, and win once more at a venue where the hosts have been beaten only twice in 44 Tests, Hussain’s match included.
And if they can keep Australia on their toes ahead of next summer’s Ashes, Stokes won’t be unhappy either. The Australians recently placed a scribbled note in their dressing-room window during the Adelaide Test against West Indies. It read ‘Ronball’ – in homage to the nickname of their coach Andrew McDonald.
Stokes has talked of his desires to keep Australia on their toes ahead of next summer’s Ashes
‘We must be setting a trend for having a coach with “ball” behind it,’ joked Stokes. ‘It’s just natural, I guess, with how we play, that it’s going to be spoken about outside our group as well.
‘Ronball doesn’t quite roll of the tongue as well as Bazball,’ he said. ‘Even if Baz doesn’t like it.’
Victory in Karachi, and all may be forgiven.
ENGLAND VS PAKISTAN POSSIBLE LINE-UPS
England team (possible): 1 Zak Crawley, 2 Ben Duckett, 3 Ollie Pope (wkt), 4 Joe Root, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Ben Stokes (capt), 7 Rehan Ahmed, 8 Ollie Robinson, 9 Mark Wood, 10 Jack Leach, 11 Jimmy Anderson.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Abdullah Shafique, 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Babar Azam (capt), 4 Saud Shakeel, 5 Mohammad Rizwan, 6 Sarfaraz Ahmed (wkt), 7 Mohammad Nawaz, 8 Faheem Ashraf, 9 Abrar Ahmed, 10 Zahid Mahmood, 11 Mohammad Wasim.