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I am sorry that Shahid Afridi will not be appearing in the Test series against England which starts next month. He is one of those players who lights up a cricket field and guarantees that a match will not be dull, at least when he is taking an active part. He himself had not really wanted to come back to Test cricket, but he was prepared to give it a go when pleaded with by the folks back home. Having given it a go, he has shown that his original view was right.
I was sceptical of the view that he only knows one way to bat, but he has proved it correct. That it's a way which has its place in Test cricket there is no doubt, as my defence of his second-afternoon assault attempted to show, but there are plenty of times when it is highly inappropriate, such as on the fourth afternoon. The situation when he came to the crease for the second time was again not at all good for Pakistan, but after he had holed out it was considerably worse, which had not been the case on Wednesday.
I did not think Wednesday's innings was stupid, reckless or irresponsible in the circumstances, but Friday's was utterly gormless.
It won't stop me being a fan, though, especially as he has taught me the true meaning of “larger-than-life”. I happened to be walking through the Long Room when he went out to bat on Wednesday. As we passed, I murmured “good luck” to him, then while I carried on to my seat, it struck me that he was a couple of inches shorter and rather slenderer, particularly in the arms, than I had thought he was. Perhaps he inflates as he crosses the boundary rope, but he does look bigger out there (to me, anyway) than he is in real life.
Since Afridi had only been brought back because the Test team needed a captain, his departure means someone else will have to don the fireproof suit and learn to swim through the oceans of ordure which are the sorry lot of any Pakistan skipper. The rumours suggest it will be Salman Butt, though the fact that he is currently the vice-captain means it will probably be someone else. Nothing is ever as it seems where the PCB is involved.
I have no idea whether he would make a good captain, but Butt was the only Pakistani batsman to emerge from the Test with real credit. He kept his cool in the first innings while the wickets cascaded at the other end. In the second innings he set about the task of building the kind of platform from which a victory push could be made with considerable skill. He really ought to have had a ton, but he made a rare mistake when within sight of it. The idea of his shot was sound but he messed up the execution, which is a pity, but not worthy of criticism. It was not a failure of temperament, since he has amply demonstrated his credentials as a Test match opener in challenging situations.
The rest were awful in the first innings but mostly adequate the second time round – though nothing more than adequate.
What did for Pakistan was being the team who were batting when conditions were at their worst. The way the Pakistani pacemen bowled, Australia would have been all out for under 100 if they had been in on Wednesday. After that calamitous session it was always going to be incredibly difficult to get back into the game but they did not give up until Umar Akmal had his Ian Bell moment, lazily gifting his wicket to the nondescript spinner on the stroke of lunch.
The limp subsidence to defeat after lunch was a depressing anti-climax after what had been a fascinating and highly enjoyable Test. If this is what we are going to get from neutral Tests at Lord's, I for one, want more.
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