December 2, 2000

Thorpe foils Pakistan's bid to snatch lead: Second test evenly poised

Faisalabad, Dec 1: A painstaking and laborious half century by Graham Thorpe on Friday frustrated the home team's victory bid in the second cricket Test being played here at the Iqbal Stadium.

When stumps were drawn for the third day, England had progressed at a snail's pace to 282 for eight with Thorpe departing half an hour before closure for 79 after five hours and 25 minutes of vigil at the crease. He had resumed this morning at two in England's 110 for three. The tourists are now just 34 runs shy of Pakistan's 316 with two wickets intact.

Thorpe's dismissal resulted in a mini-slump as Graeme Hick (18) and Ashley Giles (0) went back in a space of three balls as Wasim Akram and Abdur Razzaq produced a fiery spell of fast bowling with the second new ball which was delayed until 117.4 overs with England being 266 for five.

In the entire 79 overs play, England scored at an agonizing run-rate of 2.3 which indicates that they are here on `safety first' policy. It is certainly not a run-rate which will produce a result even in the favour of the tourists.

Thorpe's epic vigil ended when he became Wasim Akram's only scalp in his hundredth Test. Wasim, who wasted his energy and the first new ball with shortpitched stuff, bowled one upto the left-hander and earned a plumb leg before verdict from Steve Bucknor. Thorpe faced 246 balls during his marathon innings of which eight were converted into boundaries.

Thorpe's mental toughness and patience has been incredible on this tour. At Lahore, he batted for 413 minutes which means he has spent 738 minutes in the centre while facing 547 deliveries. He has been a model of concentration and application while playing the ball on merit with gentle nudges and pushes being his strong points.

Nevertheless, anything lose was severely punished on either side of the wicket by the 31-year-old veteran of 62 Tests.

But like the Lahore Test where he scored 118 after being dropped on 2, Thorpe again benefited from an umpiring blunder by Mian Mohammad Aslam who disallowed a caught behind appeal off Saqlain Mushtaq when the Surrey batsman was 12. Television replays confirmed that Thorpe had edged the ball onto his pads before Moin Khan leapt forward to pick up the catch inches from the ground.

There might have been a different story to tell than to write had Aslam not made the third error in as many days. England were 134 for three at that stage and as proved later, collapsed once Thorpe became the sixth batsman to depart.

Aslam's hesitancy in giving even the easy decision can be judged from the fact that he referred Ashley Giles's case to the third umpire even though it was clear to the naked eye that Shahid Afridi had held the catch at least six inches above the ground. The ball was falling in a parabola rather than dipping as Giles found the shoulder of the bat while trying to take evasive action off a Razzaq bouncer.

Thorpe was not the only one to frustrate the Pakistanis. Ian Salisbury, who came in as a nightwatchman on day two, irritated them for nearly three hours before falling to Saqlain Mushtaq.

Thorpe and Salisbury dashed any hopes Pakistan had of dismissing the visitors early when they remained unseparated in the first session. The two were stubborn, watchful and carried the score to 235 before being separated. The two added 97 runs for the fourth wicket in 195 minutes.

Salisbury was snapped up at silly point by Yousuf Youhana but not before the wrist spinner had contributed 33 with the bat and more importantly held the crease for 209 minutes.

Salisbury too had a lucky break when Moin Khan failed to gather a thick deflection when the batsman was 26 and England being 182 for three. Arshad Khan was the sufferer.

But barring that, Salisbury defied a three-man Pakistan spin attack with confidence to indicate that the pre-series hype was a premature assessment by the pundits. Those predicting a 3-0 whitewash would now be eating their words for under-estimating the strength, prowess and commitment of the tourists.

The Pakistan spinners bowled in tandem with skipper Moin Khan reshuffling them around. But none of them could produce a wicket-taking delivery. It is difficult to say whether it was lack of quality from Pakistan spinners or excellent batting technique of the Englishmen.

While Moin tried to do everything he could to pick early wickets, his decision to operate with the pacemen in the first session when the wicket was slow and unresponsive was mindboggling. Secondly, he used Shahid Afridi for just one over after the wicket-keeper had stressed in the first Test that Afridi had also served as the fourth spinner in Lahore.

Although the Englishmen have demonstrated by their performance that they mean business, the prospects of an interesting finish to this Test is still very much on the cards. But that would largely depend how Pakistan bat in the second innings. The home team will certainly have to bat positively and at a decent pace to make a match out of it. But more importantly they will have to bat sensibly because irresponsible and reckless shots can turn the tables on them.