England’s innings victory inside three days at Headingley salvaged a drawn NatWest Series against Pakistan.
Here, Press Association Sport charts the lessons of Lord’s and Leeds.
Joe Root will have a year of active Test captaincy under his belt by the time England play their next match – a landmark occasion as the 1,000th in their history, against India. The five-match series will also begin on a notable date for the captain – August 1, or ‘Yorkshire Day’. Root can afford a renewed spring in his step by then after England’s improvement ended a miserable run of six defeats in eight Tests. Off the pitch, he has almost always handled the responsibility impressively, and was again measured before and after Leeds. Root appears to have what it takes for one of the toughest jobs in sport, and his claim that England have taken a first step towards realising their potential is plausible.
Root’s own century drought remains high among them. He has not made one since the pink-ball Test at Edgbaston last August – 20 innings ago. He has remained remarkably consistent in the intervening 10 months, but admits his own frustration at failing to convert a string of 50s into hundreds. Before the Lord’s Test, a noted predecessor – Nasser Hussain – identified urgent addition to his 13 centuries is more important for Root’s captaincy credentials than any nifty bowling or fielding changes. Big runs on the board again will cement his authority best.
The narrative through England’s miserable winter was that their struggles in away series must be addressed, but back on home soil all would be fine again. It was sod’s law that the assumption of home comfort may take a hit too, and Pakistan duly administered it at Lord’s. They were billed as early-summer also-rans before India arrive for the main event – but with their seam-bowling attack especially, always had the potential to be competitive. In the first Test, they produced a near perfect performance. Second time round, their batting fell well short without the injured Babar Azam – and England had benefited from another wake-up call by then.
Jos Buttler’s return after an 18-month absence from Test cricket did not meet with immediate universal approval. It was a bold call by new national selector Ed Smith. After Buttler’s back-to-back half-centuries at number seven – his unbeaten 80 in Leeds bagging him man-of-the-match – has won most over. He had luck along the way, particularly when he played a poor shot on four and was badly-dropped at midwicket. England will have to accept that trade-off for a player who has the ability to turn matches their way, from good and bad positions, but is unlikely to ever be among their most consistent.
Dom Bess had 111 runs, and a memorable diving catch, to his name before he managed to muster a wicket with the off-breaks for which he was selected. But after 20.4 overs without success at Lord’s, the 20-year-old needed only six more deliveries to bag opener Imam ul-Haq as his maiden Test victim at Headingley. He picked up two more to finish with three for 33, and has done enough to be bang in the frame – irrespective of who else is fit – when England pick their first squad to take on India. They will not want to forego Bess’ effervescent character and competitive streak unless there is a pressing reason why they should.