Few scenes can have summed up the chaotic energy of this England dressing-room better than the one which took place on the third evening of the final Test in Karachi.
With an hour and a quarter to go, and 167 runs needed for a 3-0 clean sweep of Pakistan, Ben Stokes was telling anyone who would listen that he wanted victory before nightfall – and insisted he would go out there and hit six sixes in an over himself. It needed team-mates to point out he wasn’t even padded up.
Instead, England had to wait until 38 minutes into the fourth morning for Ben Duckett to hit the winning runs. Appropriately, the man who strolled up from the other end to envelop him in a grateful hug was Stokes.
Ben Stokes and Ben Duckett saw England home as they completed their whitewash in Pakistan
Stokes has transformed England’s Test team since taking over as captain in April
Yet whatever route England took to their resounding eight-wicket victory, this ninth win out of 10 – bringing them an unprecedented clean sweep in Pakistan – suggests lethal amounts of method in the madness.
It came a year to the day since Jos Buttler led a futile rearguard in Adelaide, scoring 26 in over four hours as England went 2-0 down in Australia en route to a 4-0 mauling.
Here in Karachi, they knocked off their target in 28.1 overs – the equivalent of under a session – to secure one of the greatest results in their Test history. Pakistan once went 19 years while losing only one game at home. They have just lost three in less than a month.
England’s approach is very different from the one that failed in the Ashes last winter
The contrast with the team that last winter stumbled from one mishap to another, repeatedly telling their fans they were about to turn a corner, is so great it’s almost impossible to know where to start.
But it said plenty that, with four runs needed on Tuesday, Stokes tried to hit Abrar Ahmed for the six that would have given him the Test record of 108 – one more than Brendon McCullum, the man who has helped him turn the English game, and possibly Test cricket, on its head. He had to settle for two.
Times really have changed. Not so long ago, it was the job of an England captain to explain away another humiliation down under. Now, he was lamenting his failure to secure a whitewash with a six.
Asked about McCullum and the record, Stokes said: ‘He’s been on my shoulder a while now, every time I go out to bat. It’ll be there for a few more months. I was trying out there, but I kept plinking it. I’d say I need to get into the gym.’
Stokes is now looking to move past Brendon McCullum as Test cricket’s leading six-hitter
England had resumed on the fourth morning on 112 for two, needing only 55 more to secure their place in the record books. It was a question of when, not if.
The answer was 10.38am, as Duckett spanked Mohammad Wasim through the covers to finish on 82 off 78 balls and complete a superb series in which he passed 50 four times and made his case for a starting place in next summer’s Ashes XI.
Even Duckett, though, could not match the feats of Harry Brook, named player of the both the match and the series for his three centuries. Playing only because Jonny Bairstow broke his leg on the golf course, Brook has quickly assumed the mantle of England’s next great Test batsman.
Even in a dressing-room where the captain and coach don’t like to get carried away, the excitement about his talent is palpable.
Brook’s 12 sixes in the series were one fewer than the rest of his team-mates put together, but one of the many astonishing facets of this side is how they all found their own way to score at a rate of knots.
Harry Brook hit three centuries in Pakistan and looks like England’s next great Test batsman
Everyone bar Ben Foakes and Jack Leach had a strike-rate of at least 85, while the highest figure among Pakistan’s main batsmen was Babar Azam’s 68. On Tuesday, Babar claimed his team had control of two of the Tests. England are even causing their opponents to stop thinking straight.
There were bowling heroes too, not least the quicks, with Ollie Robinson, James Anderson and Mark Wood combining for 25 wickets at 20 – a magnificent effort in conditions where they were continually praying for reverse swing. Pakistan’s various seamers managed 11 wickets between them.
And the emergence in Karachi of 18-year-old Rehan Ahmed, a leg-spinner with a big future, felt like Christmas come early.
Above all, Stokes’s side won the big moments, while Pakistan seemed to confirm the privately held view in the England camp that they didn’t enjoy pressure.
Pakistani collapses became as much a feature as English aggression. On the last day at Rawalpindi, they lost five for nine. At Multan, it was eight for 60, then five for 38. At Karachi, seven fell for 142 in the first innings, six for 52 in the second. Besides Babar and Saud Shakeel, there was little adhesiveness.
Rehan Ahmed had a dream debut and could be a star of the future for England
All the running was made by England – remarkably so, given that the bug which threatened to delay the start of the series circulated among them throughout the three Tests.
And if one gesture encapsulated Stokes’s pledge to entertain, it was his tea-time declaration on the fourth day at Rawalpindi, setting a target of 343. More importantly, it dangled a carrot: not until it was too late did Pakistan start blocking for a draw.
Future opponents will continue to argue that Bazball won’t work against them – the Australians are already doing it ahead of next summer. All the while, England keep tearing up the record books, challenging the game’s oldest format to reinvent itself in the modern age, and maybe even attracting a new generation of fans.
It has been a year they, and Test cricket, will never forget.