On July 21, 2005, England were skittled for just 155 by Australia in their first innings in that most famous of Ashes series thanks to Glenn McGrath’s mastery. With just a paltry 184, England’s first innings total yesterday (Thursday) was their lowest at Lord’s since that fateful day.
Mohammad Abbas, following in the footsteps of one of his heroes, did a lot of the damage by bowling a McGrath-esque tight line on off-stump with the seam up. In doing so, Abbas highlighted that he, not Mohammad Amir, is Pakistan’s biggest bowling threat this series and a serious one to watch.
On a day that was supposed to be the dawning of England’s new era – the second such revelation under Joe Root – everything felt rather familiar for the subdued crowd at HQ. As wickets tumbled with the recognisable sight of loose drives and tentative prods, England stumbled their way to the lowest first innings score at Lord’s in nine years.
The wickets were shared, four apiece, between 2017 Champions Trophy hero Hasan Ali and Abbas, with the latter taking the headline figures of four for 23 from 14 overs with a measly economy rate of 1.64. Abbas kicked off the carnage as he slid a ball neatly through the defence of Mark Stoneman to bowl him with the score only on 12. Ben Stokes was his next victim, given out on review to a ball that held its line, before Dom Bess edged to second slip and Stuart Broad was caught plumb leg before.
It was perhaps not the wickets that were the most impressive part of Abbas’s performance but his unerring consistency in line and length, something McGrath was always so known for. For English viewers who have not seen much of him it was a sight to behold (and be scared of). Having said that, this is just Abbas’s sixth Test, so not many have seen a great deal of him, and yet, the former welder already has 32 wickets to his name at an average of 18. As his demeanour and output at Lord’s showed, he already belongs.
Hailing from the humblest of beginnings in a small village in the Punjab province of Pakistan, the fast bowler only rose to prominence in 2016 after leading the wicket-taking charts in the domestic first-class competition, the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Sixty-one wickets at an average of 16 were followed by an unbelievable 71 wickets at an average of 12 the following season. The Windies, and a Test debut, followed.
Much was made of Mohammad Amir coming into this series but it seems, especially considering his recent injury struggles, that he is trying a little too hard right now. His dismissal of Alastair Cook was him at his brilliant best but Abbas has earned the big billing too now.
Under the radar may be how he prefers it for now, but, as his laser-like accuracy continues to take aim, the spotlight will be on him soon enough.