Four England batsmen scored hundreds on Thursday as the visitors piled up a record 506-4 on the opening day of the first Test against Pakistan in Rawalpindi.
Openers Zak Crawley (122) and Ben Duckett (107) set the tone with quick-fire tons against a hapless Pakistan bowling attack before Ollie Pope (108)and Harry Brook (101 not out) compounded their misery.
Ben Stokes was also not out, on 34, when bad light stopped play, having helped England break a 112-year-old record for the most runs on the first day of a Test — beating Australia’s 494-6 against South Africa at Sydney.
After winning the toss England went straight into “Bazball” mode, the brand of freewheeling, aggressive batting taken from the nickname of head coach Brendon McCullum.
England’s fiery batting — with 73 boundaries and three sixes — lifted the gloom over the start, which hung in the balance Wednesday after several of the tourists came down with a mystery virus.
As if the punishment from the top three wasn’t enough, Brook — playing only his second Test — cracked six consecutive boundaries off one over from debutant spinner Saud Shakeel.
He is only the fourth batsman to score six consecutive boundaries in a Test, following West Indians Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan, and Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya.
Brook reached his maiden century off just 80 balls, capping a highly entertaining day for a crowd of 6,000 that included around 150 “Barmy Army” fans.
Brook added 176 for the fourth wicket with Pope, who fell to pacer Mohammad Ali.
Pakistan had briefly fought back in the second session when they dismissed Duckett, Crawley and Joe Root (23) in the space of 53 runs, but that was shortlived.
Debutant leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood was the most successful Pakistan bowler with 2-160 on a pitch similar to the one used against Australia earlier this year.
That pitch was declared “below average” by the match referee after it yielded 1,187 runs for the loss of just 14 wickets over five days.
Duckett, who hit his maiden hundred after being recalled to the Test side following an absence of six years, was the first to go when he missed a reverse sweep off Mahmood and was trapped leg-before.
West Indian umpire Joel Wilson initially ruled it not out, only to change his decision on Pakistan’s review.
Duckett, who hit 15 boundaries, put on 233 for the first wicket with Crawley — an England record for the first wicket against Pakistan.
It beat the 1962 stand of 198 between openers Geoff Pullar and Bob Barber in Dhaka, then East Pakistan.
Crawley was bowled off a sharp incoming delivery by Haris Rauf in the next over, the Test debutant’s first wicket.
The lanky Crawley hit 21 boundaries in his quickfire 111-ball innings, his third Test hundred.
Former skipper Root also fell leg-before to Mahmood, unsuccessfully challenging the decision.
Crawley showed his intent right from the start, hitting three boundaries off Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah’s first over of the match, and bringing up his half-century off just 38 balls.
He could have become the first England batter to score a century before lunch on day one of a Test but was left nine short.
England are on their first Test tour to Pakistan in 17 years.
First Test commences as per schedule
Earlier, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) announced that the match would be played as per the original schedule.
“The ECB (England Cricket Board) has informed the PCB that they are in a position to field an XI, and, as such, the first PAKvENG Test will commence as per schedule today (Thursday, 1 December) at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium,” the PCB said in an early morning tweet.
The commencement of the match today had become doubtful after several players in the England camp fell ill on Wednesday.
For today’s match, the touring side has made one change to their original playing 11, replacing Ben Foakes with Will Jacks, who makes his test debut along with all-rounder Liam Livingstone.
“We’ve had some illness going round but we were really excited to get started,” Stokes said after winning the toss. “It’s not been ideal obviously, to start our tour like this, but hopefully we’ll be fine.”
Pakistan have named four debutants — Saud Shakeel, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Ali and Zahid Mehmood — in their playing 11.
England and Pakistan will contest a three-Test series with the first match starting today (Dec 1-5), the second in Multan from Dec 9-13 and the third in Karachi from Dec 17-21.
Illness strikes England team
BBC reported on Wednesday that about half of England’s playing squad of 16 was hit by an illness, with only five taking part in an optional training session around 14 members of the travelling party — including coaches and backup staff — advised to stay at the team hotel.
Joe Root, Zak Crawley, Harry Brook, Ollie Pope and Keaton Jennings were the players at training on Wednesday, while head coach Brendon McCullum was also in attendance. All of the squad had trained on Tuesday.
Following reports of England players falling sick, the PCB and England Cricket Board had announced that a final decision on whether to go ahead with the first Test as per schedule would be announced on Thursday morning.
In a joint statement, the PCB and ECB said they had discussed the “outbreak of viral infection” among the England team and “unanimously agreed to delay the decision on the commencement of the first Test […] until 07:30 Pakistan time tomorrow (Thursday)”.
The statement said that the two boards made the decision based on “medical advice from the England doctors”.
England are on their first Test tour of Pakistan in 17 years, following their T20 side playing seven matches in the country two months ago, taking the series 4-3.
Problems with food and players becoming ill during the T20 series led to the decision to bring a chef, Omar Meziane, who also worked with the England men’s football team at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and at Euro 2020.
However, former England Test captain Joe Root dismissed on Wednesday the possibility of his team teammates falling ill during the ongoing tour due to food poisoning, saying “it is just I think one of those things that we, unfortunately, picked up as a group”.
“I don’t think it’s food poisoning or Covid or anything like that,” said Root as he responded to a query at a press talk in Rawalpindi.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Rizwan, Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, Salman Ali Agha, Mohammad Ali, Haris Rauf, Saud Shakeel, Zahid Mahmood, Naseem Shah
England: Ben Stokes (captain), James Anderson, Joe Root, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Will Jacks, Jack Leach, Liam Livingstone, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson
Umpires: Joel Wilson (WIS) and Ahsan Raza (PAK)
TV umpire: Marais Erasmus (RSA)
Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM)