News by Neil Robinson 18/11/05
England victories in Pakistan are rare indeed. Ted Dexter pulled off the first in 1961/62, then came a 39 year wait before Nasser Hussain added to the tally in the final match of Englandís last visit. At Multan, in the first Test of this series, England so nearly made it two in a row, reaching 64 for 1 in pursuit of 198 to win before a dreadful collapse saw them slump to defeat by 22 runs.
Cameos from Strauss, Bell, Jones and Udal apart, it was a poor second innings by the tourists. The middle order powerhouses Flintoff and Pietersen have come in for particular criticism for the wild strokes which brought their downfall. It is easy to find fault in failure, but at least England perished playing the way that has made them successful. It has not always been easy to do so. Back in 1993 the first Test of the Ashes series saw Englandís batsmen take a similar positive method producing several promising starts but no big innings. One headline in particular showed the press attitude to this approach; ďEngland Square Cut Their Own Throats,Ē it read. England went on to concede that rubber, and many that followed it, in supine fashion.
It would be unfair to come down too hard on a batting line up which was evidently low on experience even before this defeat. Even had captain Michael Vaughan been fit to take part, the team would still have contained just two players who played in that winning side five years ago, Ashley Giles and Marcus Trescothick, whose sublime 193 in the first knock showed the benefit of prior experience of Pakistani conditions.
After an English summer played out on pitches ideally suited to Test cricket, the low bounce and lack of pace of this track would have come as a shock to any side, but especially one which had played just two warm-up matches and those on green-tinged wickets quite unlike this one. Unsurprisingly Pakistan had done everything possible to make conditions tough for Englandís formidable pace attack, not just in terms of the low, slow wicket, but also by preparing a lush outfield which made it difficult to rough up the ball and generate reverse swing. At the start of the game in particular it was hard to get anything out of the pitch. If Malcolm Marshall had plied his trade on tracks such as this he would have become renowned for his fearsome thigh-ball.
Having won the toss, Pakistan made fine progress while Englandís bowlers struggled to acclimatise themselves to the conditions. Shoaib Malik and Salman Butt thrashed anything remotely wide, and once Malik fell lbw to Flintoff, Younis Khan also threw the bat in jaunty fashion. But England regrouped after lunch, and tighter performances from all the bowlers (save Harmison who had been McGrath-like anyway) began to frustrate the Pakistani batsmen. England chipped away slowly at the innings. An impressive spell from 36-year old debutant Shaun Udal earned its reward when he tossed an off-break high and wide to tempt Butt into a drive. The edge flew high and fast, striking Trescothick full on the forehead at slip before looping behind the stunned stand-in skipper where keeper Jones took a fine diving catch.
After tea, Harmison struck with two wickets in an over, and although Inzamam and Kamran Akmal held on for most of the evening session, the innings fell away from there. It was a display of intelligence and diligence from England that kept Pakistan to a meagre 274 on such an easy pitch, but the hosts will have rued their careless approach, their method of playing big shots or blocking, the lack of foot movement that allowed two of their top six to be trapped lbw half-forward and another two cleanly yorked. It was a lesson they learned quickly and well.
For their part England quickly took advantage of their opponentsí below-par effort. Although they soon lost Andrew Strauss to the one good ball Mohammad Sami bowled in the whole innings, Trescothick and Bell made the most of the conditions with an impressive stand of 180. Trescothickís innings was among his best, fluent and near flawless, a close call with an lbw shout on 48 and a mistimed drive in the 80s his only errors. Bell, who would have missed out on selection were it not for Vaughanís misfortune, was more the grafter, but he displayed again a determined mindset which will serve him well in his career.
Once Bell had fallen to a catch at short-leg off Shoaib Malik there was little support for Trescothick as the flaws that had bedevilled Englandís batting in preparation came again to the fore. Only Flintoff, belligerent as ever, was able to stay with the stand-in skipper in a stand worth 93 until he skewed a slower ball from Shoaib Akhtar to square leg. Trescothick pushed on towards a double hundred and looked like getting it until he nibbled at a well directed ball from Shabbir Ahmed, coming around the wicket, and gave a catch to the wicket keeper.
Founded though it was on just two partnerships, Englandís first innings lead of 144 looked good enough to put them in the driving seat. But Salman Butt, Younis Khan, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Kamran Akmal all managed to improve on their impressive performances of the first innings. At first it seemed as if the failed tactic of block-block-slog would be repeated, but when Butt and Khan resumed after tea on the third day wiser counsel had clearly prevailed. Although Khan steered Flintoff to slip before the close, Inzamam again provided solid, if not sprightly, support for the blossoming Butt.
Perhaps the turning point in the game came on day four, when Butt, having just completed a stylish hundred, suffered a close call on a run-out. Umpire Bowden referred it to the third umpire. There were two angles available for him to view, one contained an element of doubt as to whether Jones removed the bails cleanly, the other was less ambiguous. For reasons best known to himself, the third umpire chose to rely upon the less clear-cut of the replays. The rub of the green plays such a big part in cricket, and England had escapes of their own in this game, that it is rough justice to lay blame for Englandís defeat solely at the door of the third umpire, but it is far easier to forgive an on-field umpire his trespasses than the third umpire who has time and technology at his fingertips.
England, undeniably, had the rub of the green against Australia a few months ago. Part of the job of being the best team in the world, which England aspire to proving themselves this winter, is being able to win against the odds. Once this major bit of luck went against them, England were always struggling to stay in the game here. Butt was on 102 when he was reprieved. He went on to make 122, and England lost by 22 runs. Once Butt and Inzamam had fallen, it was just Kamran Akmalís 33 which held them up. Their eventual target of 198 appeared eminently gettable for a side of their quality, but history is littered with the bodies of those sides which fell going for around 200 in the fourth innings, and England were to join them.
When Trescothick played on for just 5, again facing Shabbir around the wicket, it was the worst possible start. But Bell and Strauss played with increasing assurance to take the score to 64 for 1 before Bell edged to the keeper trying to force Kaneria through the off side. Strauss fell in the same over and Collingwood a few balls later. Flintoff and Pietersen both played a couple of big shots, then fell going for more and it was only the determined stand between Geraint Jones and Shaun Udal that kept England in with a shout. These two took England to within 32 of victory, with three wickets still in hand, until Jones was finally clean bowled by a rapid break-back from Shoaib Akhtar. Before a single run could be added, Udal misjudged a Kaneria googly and lost his middle stump. That left just Harmison to crash a couple of boundaries off Akhtar before his fellow paceman had the last laugh with a slower ball which the big Geordie edged to slip.
For Pakistan, there was jubilation. It was not just a triumph for their players, but also for their supporters who turned out in record numbers (far greater than those who turned out to watch them play India not long ago) and showed admirable hospitality to the small band of England followers. The team could reflect on the impressive emergence of Butt as a punchy, determined opener, the growing skill of Danish Kaneria and the unexpected stamina displayed by Shoaib Akhtar. The only cloud on the horizon was the reporting, again, of Shoaib Malik and Shabbir Ahmed for suspect bowling actions after the game. Shabbirís action at least seemed to me to be improved in this game, if not perfect.
But for England the problems were multiplied. While they may yet have captain Vaughan back for the second Test at Faisalabad, they missed a great chance to win here, and chances to win in Pakistan come rarely. The pitches for the next two Tests are unlikely to favour Englandís bowlers. While their bowlers did perform well here, their batsmen, Trescothick apart, looked out of touch. And now Trescothick may be a doubt for the rest of the tour as he may be returning home to be with his family after his father-in-law was seriously injured falling off a ladder. Add to that the likely absence from the third Test of Strauss as he returns home for the birth of his first child and it seems unlikely that Englandís batting can achieve the kind of continuity it would need to turn this series around now.
Pakistan 274 (Butt 74, Inzamam 53, Flintoff 4-68, Harmison 3-37) & 341 (Butt 122, Inzamam 73, Flintoff 4-88)
England 418 (Trescothick 193, Bell 71, Shabbir 4-54, Akhtar 3-99) & 175 (Kaneria 4-62, Akhtar 3-49)
Pakistan won by 22 runs.