England’s last overseas Test cricket tour was a shambles. Two draws and a loss to the West Indies ended a run of international Test cricket few were proud of.
Joe Root left the captaincy, Chris Silverwood was already sacked as head coach and the remaining void lingered for a number of months.
But less than a year on it couldn’t be any more different. Now under the stewardship of coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes, England have just completed a series victory in Pakistan – their first since 2000-01.
It is the first time England have won two Tests on the same tour to the country and it marks the first time since 1959 that Pakistan have lost three long-form matches in a row.
The dream start for Stokes, McCullum, and the rest, continues – they’re now on eight wins and one loss in their opening nine matches.
“We know what we’ve achieved, we know it’s a very special thing in English cricket,” said Stokes.
“We don’t take it for granted, we know what we’ve come here and done, we know how hard it is to come to Pakistan.
“To beat Pakistan in Pakistan is massive. Not for one minute are we going to think this is just another Test series win.”
But the win was not as comfortable as their opening 74-run victory in Rawalpindi.
A promising batting performance from Pakistan on the fourth day in Multan gave the home side a realistic shot at levelling the series.
But in the end the match was wrapped up in the opening session of the fourth day – and England were winners by 26 runs.
It was a proper Test match, too, ebbing and flowing unlike the first one, and both sides had their chances throughout.
Harry Brook has almost made himself undroppable batting at No5, but how he will hold on to that position when Jonny Bairstow returns remains to be seen.
Brook has now scored more than 300 runs on tour and will be eyeing more boundaries when the third Test gets underway on Saturday in Karachi.
On a docile pitch England’s seamers performed above and beyond expectations, too. Mark Wood took four second-innings wickets while James Anderson and Ollie Robinson claimed two each.
England are revolutionised in 2022 and Stokes’s side are a shining light for a brand of cricket operating in a format plenty had suggested was dead.
Pakistan, too, has been a perfect overseas tour to kick off Stokes’s captaincy beyond the shores of England; the pitches have been tough and the atmospheres electric.
The series thus far has offered a number of different scenarios that have tested the Durham all-rounder, including that superb declaration in the first Test.
Test cricket is fun again for England – at home and overseas – but bigger challenges will come for the side.
Once they’re over the third Test next week, eyes will turn to a two-Test tour of New Zealand in February and a single home Test against Ireland at Lord’s before Australia head over to Britain for the Ashes.
The Ashes will be where England’s new axis will truly be judged. It’s what fans care most about.
Both sides are playing well and winning in style, but up against one another it is set to be a fascinating match-up.