Ben Stokes has just produced the finest five days of captaincy I’ve ever witnessed – either growing up as a kid, playing or commentating on the game.
To win a Test match in those conditions, on that Rawalpindi pitch, probably the flattest I’ve seen, was truly remarkable.
To win a match in this circumstances, you have to work out how to get 20 wickets, to score your runs quickly enough to give yourself time to get those 20 wickets, and the decision making process had to be clinical throughout. It was a masterclass.
Ben Stokes produced a captaincy masterclass as England recorded a famous win in Pakistan
An elated Stokes celebrates after England’s 74-run victory in the first Test at Rawalpindi
Stokes literally had to get every decision right and even by getting every decision right, England won with just 10 minutes to spare.
First, he pushed this attacking batting line up out the door on day one, and when they came back in with more than 500 in 75 overs, they had bought time to push for victory.
I never doubted that they would get runs out here and at some lick because they won’t get runs slowly with this batting line-up.
But what I was really looking forward to seeing was how Stokes would work out with his bowlers how to get more 20 wickets on that pitch. I played three Tests out here and I didn’t see anything as dead as that.
Because he got the team’s batting tempo right, he got the declaration spot on by dangling the carrot and making sure Pakistan had something to play for until the end.
England celebrate after Jack Leach’s wicket of Nassem Shah was confirmed by DRS
Ollie Robinson (left) celebrates the wicket of Pakistan’s Agha Salman just after tea on Monday
As well as Robinson, James Anderson also took four wickets – in another brilliant bowling show
That was crucial: if Pakistan had blocked for a period of time, it would have been so hard for England to get them out.
His decisions were precision. If there had been one second of doubt this win would not have happened, and that’s what I really like about Stokes as a captain. He doesn’t doubt himself.
If at tea on day four, he had questioned whether he had enough runs, and batted for just 10-15 minutes that evening, he would have lost that time and then 10 minutes between innings and we would be going to Multan 0-0.
He has talked the talk over the last six months about not playing for draws but he truly walked the walk.
If in any pitch was going to challenge that mindset it was this one and I don’t know any other England captain, or any captain of any nationality actually, that could have gone out there and made that declaration on Sunday.
Stokes bowled himself into the ground during a dramatic final day to haul England to victory
There was plenty of work to be done in the field too as England sought to check Pakistan’s runs
History tells you that this surface doesn’t explode, it doesn’t turn late on. Australia played here in the spring and went wicketless on day five as Pakistan scored 252 for none.
So Stokes knew that this wasn’t going to deteriorate, that spin wasn’t going to have a great effect – it has a lower impact in Pakistan in the fourth innings than anywhere else in the world – and that it was going to be him on one leg, Jimmy Anderson at 40 years of age and Ollie Robinson who a year ago was having his fitness questioned, doing the work.
He knew he had to gamble because he needed the time and had to get everything right on the last day too, like holding himself back for when the ball started reversing.
There are only three seamers, England haven’t had much of a rest because they only batted for 36 overs in the second innings and so they’re tired when they have to go again after tea on day five.
Ollie Robinson was also magnificent as he took four wickets in Pakistan’s second innings
But they kept believing and when they get a couple of wickets, he realised that success was from getting the ball older. Why would you then change it for a new ball in this circumstances? He didn’t.
Then, with the light closing in, when he finally opted for it, he threw it to Jack Leach and got the wicket. Like clockwork.
You could see with his match-winning performances in the 2019 Ashes Test at Headingley and the World Cup final that year that Stokes possessed the nous to think his way through situations. He’s a very smart cricketer.
But very rarely do you look down on a captain and say: ‘He’s got that right, and he’s got that right. And he’s got that decision, right.’ A lot of these decisions are 50-50 calls, not black or white.
James Anderson (left) continued to defy age at 40 and took four second innings wickets
He is tactically brilliant but while some captains do things to say ‘look at me,’ or make themselves look good, he does things for a reason.
Yes, there’ll be times next summer in the Ashes when people will question ‘do we need to be doing things like that?’ If Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood are on top, for example.
But you have to back Stokes because of what he has achieved already. I don’t think anyone realised how inspirational he was going to be.
He also has that steeliness about it. I think great leaders have that little bit of fear factor about them. Players will run through a brick wall for him.
England players roar with delight after beating Pakistan in the most dramatic of fashions
There is a great respect but they just fear being on the wrong side of him. Do what he asks, otherwise you’ll be in trouble.
It has been an outstanding start to his captaincy tenure. This is now seven wins out of eight and there have been some amazing performances – think of the batting of Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root and England players smashing the ball everywhere last summer.
But if you had to rank the successes, it would be this one, then daylight, then the rest. Make no mistake. To win here was extraordinary and will rightfully be remembered as one of England’s greatest victories.