ENGLAND almost pulled off an astonishing first Test victory against Pakistan at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Cricket Stadium.
And debutant Adil Rashid, of Yorkshire, was the driving force with 5-64 on the final day as Pakistan were bowled out for 173.
It was only gathering dusk that stopped Alastair Cook’s side going 1-0 up with two to play, the opening match of three ended by bad light with England on 74-4 while chasing 99, with eight more scheduled overs left.
And England’s captain was full of praise for Rashid’s display, saying: “Test cricket, a lot of it, is played in the mind.
“He’s obviously had a tough introduction ... bowling on probably the worst wicket you’d ever want to make your debut on as a leg-spinner when you lose the toss.
“To get his rewards like he did, and bowl like he did, really sped up the game.
“Full credit to him for having that character and confidence in his ability to not get too down on himself. I think you saw the weight of the world lift off his shoulders when he got that wicket.”
Rashid had to show plenty of the resilience Cook demands.
“He’s got some good friends at Yorkshire (in this team) ... (and) as a captain, you always have a quiet word along the way,” said Cook.
“But it’s not down to anyone else, it’s down to him – sticking it out when it was tough and still having the ability and the confidence to rip his leg-spinner even when he hadn’t got a wicket.”
Rashid produced a resilient performance having recorded figures of 0-163 in the first innings, on a very slow pitch.
And England coach Trevor Bayliss believes the experience could be the making of the leg-spinner.
“Certainly,” he said. “He did exactly what we thought he was more than capable of doing.
“In the first innings, it was very difficult to bowl spin on that wicket – as I think the four or five spinners in the match found.
“But spinners, especially leg-spinners, really come into their own on the last day – and he showed the quality he has got.”
Bayliss had no qualms with rules which forced the players off in fading light, but agreed with many that the playing surface was too slow. He said: “I’d like to see a little bit more pace in the wicket – not just for the pace bowlers but the batters and also the spinners.
“Even they would enjoy a little bit more pace, a bit faster spin.
“If the wicket was just a little bit quicker, it would make for a lot better game to watch.”
Bayliss was in awe of Cook’s powers of concentration during his man-of-the-match, marathon innings of 263 against Pakistan in the first Test.
Cook batted for almost 14 hours, the longest by an Englishman, to put his team into a position from which they almost won.
Cook’s determination dragged England back into contention after their hosts had piled up 523-8 declared in the first innings.
Asked for his reaction while Cook was batting, and that of the players in the dressing room, Bayliss made it clear they are all full of admiration.
“(It’s) one of awe, I think,” said the Australian. “It is just an unbelievable will to concentrate for that long ... an unbelievable effort.”
Cook has made tireless batting his speciality, often in Asian conditions, and Bayliss added: “There are some very good players in both teams ... but for someone to bat like that from the top of the innings – I think he spent over four days on the field – his powers of concentration are just superb.
“It’s not the first time he’s done it, so it really wasn’t a surprise.”
Cook did not need to enhance his reputation among team-mates who already have huge respect for him.
“I don’t think it changes his standing in the team at all, because I think the rest of the players already have a very high opinion of their captain,” said Bayliss.
“He’s very well-respected. It was just another sign to the players that he is an extremely good player, a hard worker – and a sign to them how hard they’ve got to work.
“If they can work just as hard as him, this team’s got some good times in front of it.”