June 16, 2003

Pakistan in command as England flounder

50 overs England 204 for 9 (Flintoff 39, Malik 3-26) v Pakistan

Michael Vaughan: a mid-20s start to his captaincy career

In front of a packed Old Trafford and in a cacophony of blaring horns that was more Lahore than Lancashire, the exuberance of England's youth gave way to naivety, as Pakistan took control of the first match of the NatWest Challenge. After rattling to 96 for 3 in a frenzied first 15 overs, England lost momentum and wickets in equal measure to finish on a disappointing 204 for 9. Their predicament would have been worse but for a composed 33 from Anthony McGrath, whose temperament has yet to be found wanting in any form of international cricket.

Pakistan's efforts in the field were a far cry from their wearisome performances in the World Cup. A vigorous young line-up fielded tigerishly, particularly in the covers, and were marshalled impressively by Rashid Latif, who juggled his bowlers and field placings, and picked up three smart catches - as well as a bruised cheekbone while standing up to the promising offspinner, Mohammad Hafeez.

Pakistan's wickets were shared between five bowlers, but it was the astonishingly rapid bowling of Mohammad Sami that really stood out. Sami stepped into the triple void left by the retirements of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, and the suspension of Shoaib Akhtar, and touched 96mph on occasions. He also varied his pace to great effect and made the first breakthrough, when Marcus Trescothick touched a rapid off-stump lifter through to Latif (45 for 1). Trescothick had clipped and cut his way to 18 from 25 balls, but his mode of dismissal would have revived some unwanted memories from this winter.

Nevertheless, Trescothick's cameo came as part of a riotous start to the match. His new opening partner was Vikram Solanki, who more than justified his recall after a three-year absence, with a run-a-ball 36. His first shot of note was a wristy back-foot drive through the covers, and when Latif turned to the offspin of Hafeez in only the sixth over, Solanki deposited him for a handsome six straight over his head. In the very same over, however, he was beaten by a quicker ball and bowled (64 for 2).

Michael Vaughan's first innings as England one-day captain at least kept his average in the mid-20s, but it was another curate's egg performance from someone who is so composed in the Test arena. Vaughan charmed one flowing cover-drive and hoisted the gangly Umar Gul for a magnificent six over midwicket, but he was uncertain against Sami, and suckered by some fine field placing from Latif, who removed his slips and gleefully took the catch as Vaughan (27) attempted to run the ball through the gap (106 for 4). By this stage, Jim Troughton had already come and gone. His first boundary in international cricket was a sweetly timed push through the covers off Gul, but Gul struck back instantly, inducing the faintest of nicks to Latif (96 for 3).

England's run-rate could hardly have been expected to drop off with Andrew Flintoff at the crease, but after taking just four balls to club his first boundary, Flintoff needed another 10 overs to double his tally of fours, a leg-stump long-hop from Gul that was deservedly bludgeoned to long-leg. Flintoff ought to have been caught in the very same over, but Imran Nazir couldn't cling onto a murderous cut shot.

It threatened to be an expensive mistake. Malik was swept to fine leg for four, before Abdul Razzaq was clubbed over long-off for the Flintoff's meatiest boundary yet. But Razzaq struck back in the same over, courtesy of a fine plunging catch at midwicket by Yasir Hameed as Flintoff miscued an attempted pull (152 for 5). Rikki Clarke was then bowled behind his legs for a third-ball duck, exposing all three stumps as he attempted a sweep, and the innings was beyond repair.

Chris Read flopped down on one knee to hoist a simple catch to Imran Nazir on the deep midwicket boundary (164 for 7), before Ashley Giles was frazzled by Sami, who roughed him up with a 90mph over before running him out with a shy from point in Shoaib's next over (169 for 8). McGrath's effort prevented a complete meltdown, and when he chipped a catch to point, Gough and James Anderson knocked the ones and twos to ensure that England at least completed their 50 overs. But, with just 205 runs to defend, their real job is still to come.