CHRIS WOAKES and Jos Buttler combined to conjure up a miraculous, mind-blowing England Test victory for the second summer running.
What an unlikely pair they were. Woakes’ bowling has been superb but his batting has been traumatised over the past couple of years by short bowling.
His highest score in two years since a century against India at Lord’s was just 37 – until his 84 not out today, that is.
And wicketkeeper Buttler was under immense pressure after fluffing three chances in Pakistan’s first innings – including opener Shan Masood twice on 45 on his way to 156.
Then, after the game, Buttler revealed that he heard at 10pm on Friday evening that his father Johnny had been taken to hospital.
So, although this wasn’t quite as unbelievable as Headingley 2019 and nobody played an all-time great innings like Ben Stokes, it was still a remarkable performance.
Don’t forget, England conceded a deficit of 107 runs on first innings and slumped to 117-5 shortly before tea yesterday.
But the sixth-wicket partnership of 139 between Woakes and Buttler dragged England from their near-impossible predicament towards a three-wicket victory in the First Test.
Buttler was finally lbw for 75 attempting another of his reverse sweeps and Stuart Broad soon followed.
But Woakes was there at the end, the winning runs arriving courtesy of an edge for four.
It ended a sequence of England losing five straight opening Tests of a series.
All the Test matches behind closed doors this summer have been damn exciting.
But imagine the atmosphere on a normal Saturday in Manchester with thousands of well-oiled, fancy-dressed spectators willing England across the line.
Buttler admitted after the game that, after his triple blunders with the gloves, he wondered if he had played his last Test match.
He was able to enter almost one-day mode, something at which he is a world master. There was no point trying to chisel out the runs, they had been scored quickly.
Woakes timed the ball exquisitely, particularly with his favourite cover drives. It was a fabulous effort, bearing in mind his recent travails with the willow.
But Pakistan were curiously reluctant to test him with bouncers. They tried it briefly but, after one false shot and one boundary, abandoned the tactic.
Buttler and Woakes were outstanding but there is no doubt Pakistan went soft on England to some extent.
Their players’ constant chatter and encouragement whenever England were batting previously in the match gradually subsided to near-silence.
Pakistan started the day swinging and extended their lead by 32 runs from the first 16 balls, while losing their final two wickets.
Yasir Shah whacked three fours and a six before edging Broad, who extended his sequence of taking at least three wickets to six innings – the longest streak for England since Graeme Swann in 2009.
When England began their pursuit of 277 to win, Rory Burns was lbw to Mohammad Abbas from round the wicket. He reviewed and it was still out.
As he departed, Burns put his gloved finger to his mouth in a “ssshhh” gesture to the Pakistan players after some words to which he didn’t take kindly.
Dom Sibley and Root put on 64 for the second wicket, a useful foundation.
Sibley was given out caught behind on 26 but replays showed he missed the ball by several inches but then, having made 36, he edged an attempted drive against Yasir to slip.
England promptly lost four wickets for 31 runs and the game looked up.
Root edged 17-year-old Naseem Shah to slip and Stokes couldn’t get his hands out of the way of a Yasir googly that reared from the rough.
The original decision was not out but Pakistan’s review revealed the ball brushed Stokes’ gloves. He looked mystified, perhaps he didn’t feel the contact.
One thing was sure – Stokes wouldn’t on this occasion be the man who played the heroic innings.
When Ollie Pope was on the wrong end of a near-unplayable lifter from Shaheen Shah Afridi – which he gloved to gully – England were 117-5 and still 160 runs short of their target.
But Woakes joined Buttler and they seized the initiative with controlled aggression.
Pakistan’s bowlers were unable to gain much reverse swing and the pitch started to die – but, make no mistake, this was a victory right from the top drawer.