Lords’ was the venue again as we returned to the Test arena against a jubilant Hong Kong side who made the long voyage to our Brexit turbulent seas after thumping the Germans. Durham’s Mark Wood travelled from the north to replace Lancastrian James Anderson in a five-man seam attack backed up with the turn of Moeen Ali. Spin would have a massive influence on the contest as the pitch offered intriguingarray of cracks s from the early indication.
Captain Root won the toss and our premier duo Rory Burns and Luke Wells strode out to the crease to safely negotiate the early bowler friendly conditions. Wells (18) had been lucky early on to Tanwir Afzal but his luck ran out as he miscued a pull shot straight into leg gully’s pouches. Root came out of the blocks with a hiss and a roar the fiery red orb flying to the smaller boundaries. Hong Kong’s bowlers strayed to short to the dismissive Root – jet lag maybe setting in for the visitors. Burns blocked and prodded enabling Root to move to his first EHTL fifty at a swift strike rate of 160. England’s confidence continued when Root overturned an lbw decision on the penultimate ball of the session leaving Hong Kong bemused walking off to their red pepper soup.
A change of session provided a change of fortune for the visitors as Burns curtailed his lengthy 101 ball stay for 27 nicking off to the left arm spin of Nirav Acharya falling just shy of a hundred partnership with the skipper. It was an odd innings for Burns as he failed to develop any fluidity leading to the rash shot. Jonny Bairstow (3) edged to the keeper soon after and Hong Kong smelt some fear when Root’s (87) fast-paced knock was ended by Acharya who extracted some extra bounce to remove the skipper.
Acharya (6-82) was the shining light for the visitors in the premier innings first unravelling Ben Stokes (18) and then removing Moeen Ali for 11. Seamer Ghazanfar (1-83) claimed an expensive wicket of Jos Buttler for an attacking yet unsubstantial 18 completing the second session subsidy. It was a disappointing hour for us succumbing to the opposition twirlers despite amassing 140 runs in the session. Sam Curran’s talent after his breakthrough performance with the ball against PNG started to show with the bat with boundary shots racing into the Lords pavilion. His 45 not out at tea provided food for thought about a promotion up the order and with Chris Woakes (23*), we were 280-7 scoring at over 4 and a half an over.
Chris Woakes (32) batted maturely to compile an 85 partnership with Curran propelling us to 298-8, seamer Afzal enticing the Warwickshire all-rounder into a lazy drive catching the outside edge through to the keeper. Curran raced to his fourth Test half-century off just 27 balls and dominated a 60 run partnership with Stuart Broad (21*). Curran had advanced through the eighties for a new high score thanks to bizarre field placements and overthrows and he entered the nervous nineties with consecutive nerveless slog sweeps of spinner Eshan Khan (0-112), who endured a chastening 15 overs with the ball.
Surely, could he reach his ton? The field setting was strange and offputting: 3 slips, a leg slip, a silly point with no mid-on. Curran, on 97, faced up against chief tormentor Acharya and defended the first four balls with aplomb. Then the moment came! A worn red orb kissed the sun stroked surface met by the ferocious blade of Curran agonisingly sueezed over cover which then sprinted off the surface one bounce into the rapturous crowd to claim his maiden Test century. Jubilation swiftly followed to dismay in the space of a ball when Curran skied his attempted sweep to the keeper to depart for a wonderful 101.
Wood was the final one dismissed (4) but it was the Surrey man’s 101 which would earn lavish praise in propelling us up to a more respectable total of 370 on a batting favoured pitch.
Our swift run rate presented us the freedom to have an hour barrage of hostile bowling in order to gain some early wickets in the late diminishing daylight. Initially, openers Scott McKenchie and Tanveer Ahmed had provided a strong rearguard against the swing and seam of Curran and Broad until Curran’s change of angle to around the wicket paid instant dividend trapping Ahmed in front (13). Captain Root made an instinctive switch to Woakes from Broad and his skiddy seamers ignited into flames for McKechnie (23) whose edge narrowly carried to Bairstow. Woakes soon doubled his tally when he bagged Shahid Wasif at gully for 3 approaching the end of the day. Skipper Babar Hayat (16*) and Kinchit Shah (5*) guided the away side to close on 63-3 from 17 pulsating overs in a highly enthralling first day.
Immediately on the second day, Hayat led the response for his side driving through the covers convincingly on two separate occasions. His partner Shah (9) however couldn’t replicate instead falling over plumb in front off the jubilant centurion Curran (3-45). Hayat had an incredible aura that was felt around the ground and in the Hong Kong faithful who rested all their faith on their skipper as he intended to be the glue to their batting. However, as fifty loomed in the sunny summer skies of London, Hayat was undone six short of a half century by a ripping delivery from Moeen Ali – pundits alike rejoiced at the off spinner’s success.
We then pressed on in our attempt to force Hong Kong to follow on – Curran and Ali picking up one apiece at 144-7. No 8, Tanwir Afzal, decided to switch on the motor and attacked against the sluggish Wood and Broad proving that his average of 30 in first class cricket was not to be ignored. Fresh off his brace the night before, Woakes returned to the stage and saw early joy in removing Khan (13) at the other end. Afzal released the shackles and his attacking mentality purchased a stylish fifty to put his side clear of the follow on target.
Metronomic Woakes (5-47) cleaned up the ultra aggressive Afzal (55) through the deception of a slower ball before a stroke of brilliance at gully by Ben Stokes ended the innings exactly on 200. Stokes, as shown above, proved his remarkable abilities as a fielder flying himself to his right before holding onto a screamer which gifted Woakes his 4th five for.
After recording a 171 run lead, we were guilty of being naive and a tad complacent in our stroke play especially our openers. In a short yet high quality 12 over burst, Hong Kong had us stumbling at 37-3. Wells (11) highlighted his vulnerability against the short ball fending a rising Nawaz delivery to Hayat at slip. Root (3) succumbed to a beauty from Mohammed Ghanzafar before Burns (12) skied a pull on the stroke of tea gifting the seamer a simple return catch.
Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes led a recovery and both had contrasting experiences against the spin duo of Khan and Acharya. Stokes and the spinners enjoyed a battle resulting in an absorbing period in the final session. Sweeps and reverse sweeps were counteracted by some tight lines from the twirlers who valiantly hung in the contest. They were rewarded with the scalp of Stokes (45) who tried one too many sweeps and was trapped adjacent to the stumps ending a pulsating knock and opening up another one.
Jos Buttler looked in excellent touch from his first ball and combined with fellow keeper Bairstow (who passed 50 shortly after Buttler) for a swashbuckling 96 run partnership. Buttler’s half century became the fastest ever test fifty providing the fans a unique and special moment and proved his credentials as a Test batsman. His maximums inside out over cover and a slog sweep took the sting out of the toiling bowlers who were spell blinded by the Lancastrian Freak. Unfortunately, approaching the close of play, Buttler couldn’t resist another chance for a six and holed out at cow corner for 67 off just 25 balls. Mark Wood was promoted to night watchmen and he comfortably saw out the day at 219-5.
The next morning we collapsed in true English style. Wood (4) set the tone nicking off to the premier delivery of the day before Bairstow (60) and Curran (13) succumbed to spinner Eshan Khan (4-49). Khan also picked up Woakes for nine and helped to effect the curtailing run out when Mo failed to ground his bat summing up our innings efforts and his fortunes with the bat. Not all was doom and gloom though with the insurmountable 438 left for Hong Kong to chase on a degrading Lords’ pitch with one and a half days left- right…..
It was 31-0 again when déjà vu struck, Curran’s left arm boomerang catching the snippet of McKechnie’s bat through to a gleeful Bairstow. This brought in crowd favourite Babar who along with opener Tanveer Ahmed seized upon some wayward bowling to mount a hefty partnership. Both played with flair and sophistication highlighting a growing belief that they could force a positive result. Ahmed, in particular, executed a series of stylish boundaries in his progression past half a ton mainly off the lacklustre Wood and Broad. The partnership was, however, terminated through the one and only Ben Stokes, whose sharp bouncer hurried Ahmed who could only watch in despair as the ball clipped his bat face to Bairstow. Ahmed (77) may have departed but he had set a template to how the remaining batters should play.
Stokes, (who had already had two caught behinds wrongly rejected by the third umpire) maintained his hostile bowling in the penultimate over of the session and he was rewarded with the scalp of Wasif (0). Wasif looked troubled at his short stay at the crease by Stokes’ ability to change up his lengths and lines accurately which resulted in a third snaffle for Bairstow. Maybe the bread and butter pudding was too tempting!
The question on many members lips at tea was whether Hong Kong could sustain their run scoring freedom and keep their wickets intact as their lord and saviour Babar remained at the crease. By the end of play, Hong Kong had racked up 105 runs in only 29 sunsetting overs for the loss of a singular wicket.
Despite the early wicket of Shah (16) courtesy of a Stuart Broad out-swinger, Babar spearheaded the battering and the bruising of our bowlers slowly caressing boundaries at aplomb. He gained the support of left hander Narinder Karpe who thwarted our fatigued bowling attack. Captain Root tried to mix and match his bowlers to produce a wicket but we struggled to find any penetration on a lifeless strip. A combination of overturned decisions from the third umpire, mainly off Mo, and some excellent batting from the pair put Hong Kong on 254-4 at the close of play. Babar reached his hundred in the final over to complete a pleasing and positive day for the opposition.
Joe Root came under some fire at the close of play for his decision to not bowl Stokes at all in the last session and only giving leading spinner Ali 15 out of 70 overs so far. He would look to make amends on the next day with Hong Kong still requiring 174 runs to pull of a mindblowing chase.
Babar and Karpe picked off where they left on Day 4 punishing more seam up bowling and nullifying the effect of swing or spin. Karpe had flown under the radar for much of his innings but was rewarded for his patience and stoic batting when he celebrated a well crafted 50. An inspired decision from Root followed briefly afterwards to hand the ball to the economic Woakes who duly responded with the scalp of Karpe (60) pouched well by heavily criticised skipper Root. Another leg cutter fooled the resilient leftie giving Woakes his sixth victim of the match. Ghanzafar (4*) joined Babar (140*) at the crease and guided the side to roasted lamb without any further loss. Pressure had suddenly been mounted onto us rapidly and there was an increasing belief that Hong Kong could pull this off especially if Babar was at the crease.
The resumption after lamb saw Mo take the ball and extract some unbelievable turn and bounce yet none inducing a false shot or providing a crucial wicket. He was not backed up though at the other end as Root alongside his seamers were releasing pressure when shots off Babar’s bat motored towards the rowdy away support.
The target steadily kept reducing like the hands on a clock and with it seemingly went our small hopes and thoughts. Ali continually racked up maiden after maiden unfortunately without any breakthrough until he produces an almighty swipe from Ghanzafar which caught the inside edge bobbling up to leg slip. Yet Stokes had already moved himself to slip during the delivery and the edge landed safely to the despair and frustration of many in the arena. A couple more half chances were presented by the relentless Ali but eventually to no avail.
Numerous records were smashed when Hong Kong reached 400 for 5 but captain Babar remained intent on seeing the job through. He needed partners with him to guide them home and worry surely would have flooded his mind when Broad delivered an in-swinging seed to trap Ghanzafar lbw for a gritty 27 from 90 balls,. Maybe there was a chance for England – maybe the floodgates would open…
It wasn’t to be though as Babar first reached 200 with a helicopter six off Stokes warmly received by all sections of the ground. First innings top scorer Afzal came together with Babar and whacked a quickfire 18 not out putting the tourists a boundary away from a mesmerising win. Ali (0-64 from 33) delivered two maidens to ramp up some late pressure but it was off the bowling of Curran where Babar seized the moment and caressed a half volley into the Lords’ advertising to send Hong Kong into euphoria.
Hong Kong had done it! Every field tactic, bowling combination, change of angle were all dispatched in a ruthless and incredible display of batting from the tourists duly led by their amazing skipper Babar Hayat who finished 212 not out.
After effectively being 171-0 at the start of our second innings our collapse was frustrating but definitely not match-defining. Our lack of potency and attack with the ball coupled with an abysmal fielding effort, poor decision making and genius batting from Babar meant we were resigned to a shocking loss in our backyard. Moeen Ali and Joe Root were very unlucky to not pick up a wicket in the second innings after extracting fruitful turn and bounce on the final day. Our main seamers and strike force were largely ineffectual in our second dig with Wood only completing 12 expensive and wicketless overs in the match.
Full credit though must go to the Asian side who applied themselves in a perfect manner to stun the cricketing world and chase down a world record total at the Home of Cricket. Babar Hayat as captain marshalled his troops well in their bowling comeback but importantly led from the front with the blade in hand in an unbelievable knock that will go down in history no doubt as one of the greatest innings ever.
England 371 (S Curran 101, Root 87, Woakes 32; Acharya 6-82, Afzal 3-36)
Hong Kong 200 (Afzal 55, Babar 44, McKenchie 23; Woakes 5-47, S Curran 3-41)
England 266 (Buttler 67, Bairstow 60, Stokes 45; E Khan 4-49, Ghanzanfar 2-45)
Hong Kong 440-6 (Babar 212*, Ahmed 77, K Shah 60; Stokes 2-48, Broad 2-84)
Hong Kong win by 4 wickets MOM: Babar Hayat
The result is going to haunt us for a while and will hopefully provide a learning curve so we can improve and put in substantially better performances in order to put ourselves back in contention for the EHTL title. Despite the loss, there are positives to take from this game most notably the explosive nature of Jos Buttler, the all-round talents of Sam Curran demonstrated via a wonderful maiden century and the reliability of Chris Woakes with the orb.
Our next battle will see us venture across Europe where we will be entering the heart of cricket in Denmark at the Hammerby Arena. We will be pondering some personnel changes off the back of this defeat and the uncertain conditions that we will encounter in the happiest country in the world. Thank you for the continued support and we will endeavour to return emphatically to winning ways very soon.
Jamie Hamilton (Coach and Selector of England)