A poor day at the office yet again for Pakistan! Yesterday they were vulnerable at the beginning but imperious for the rest of the day. Such inconsistency is normal for this team and we may as well live with it.
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Rashid Latif struggled to find his magic today. He looked stiff and uncomfortable. It was a cold day in Manchester and fielding or simply playing in such conditions can be a hazardous occupation. Nick Knight who is one of the best fielders in the world gave Rashid an early reprieve by dropping a simple catch in the slips. Rashid was unable to capitalise on this unexpected fortune and was soon involved in a silly mix up with Saqlain and a direct hit to the stumps left him well short.
Saqlain dealt some lusty blows to bring up the 400 but soon after lost his partner Waqar to Darren Gough who bowling a fastish full length ball, found Waqar right in front of his stumps.
Pakistan players looked confident when they came into the field. Wasim and Waqar rushed in like their old days and even though they lacked pace, bowled well enough to take two early wickets. Wasim made the initial breakthrough by removing Trescothick. But Trescothick can consider himself unlucky. The ball that captured his wicket was a sheer beauty. It pitched in the middle and moved enough to hit his off stump. Almost an impossible ball to bowl from the angle Wasim uses when bowling to left handed batsmen. Atherton was quick to follow his opening partner to the pavilion. Waqar had been bowling a good off stump line to him and for a change, found Atherton half asleep and leaden footed. Rashid was the recipient of a simple catch.
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Graham Thorpe after some relentless cricket had decided to take a year off this lovely game a couple of years ago. It seems to have worked wonders for him. He'd been unhappy and didn't want to tour during English winters. Pakistan players must wish his return timing could have been better and spared the punishment he has dished out to them in the last six months. He is in impregnable form and commands full control over Pakistani bowlers. For the time being none of our bowlers must relish bowling at him. Wasim & Waqar bowled a long first spell and this did make me feel uneasy. Both of them were mindful of the fact that they did not have a necessary support bowler once they were out of attack. Once tired, they fed Vaughan on the back foot. He loves hitting the ball square off the pitch and all Pakistani bowlers were guilty of giving him an early Christmas present - a century on the horizon.
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All Pakistani bowlers achieved some reverse swing at various times. Reverse swing is only potent when it is backed by real pace. Shoaib Akhtar must be banging his head against the wall in the dressing room. At the end of the series Duncan Fletcher might be given an extended contract only because of Pakistan folly of leaving him out.
Like Inzamam, Younis and Rashid; both Vaughan and Thorpe played freely and enterprisingly. Their mastery of Pakistan bowlers was complete and authoritative. With all the hype about Saqlain, he was a disappointment to say the least. Instead of flighting the ball he was hell bent on pushing it as hard as possible thus making it impossible for him to turn the ball on this docile pitch.
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Azhar and Razzaq hardly bowled in the evening. Are we playing these two guys as specialist batsmen? Remember, we have to win this test match to level the series. Where was the cover for the senior fast bowlers? I am as perplexed as most of you. Once again I reiterate, this pitch is crying out for a Shoaib Akhtar or a Sami if he were fit. Sooner we analyze our misconception the better off we are going to be.
England finished up in a strong position today. With Nick Knight coming into bat at No. 7, I expect remorseless aggression from England batsmen.
Senior players in Pakistan team should take stock and maybe take their prayer mat out. Time is running out for all of us.
Mudassar Nazar is a veteran of 76 tests and 122 ODIs. He is currently the chief coach of Pakistan's National and Regional Cricket Academies. In view of the overwhelming interest of users in CricInfo's articles, we have invited him to write for us.
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