November 16, 2000

Thorpe puts England in command of the first Test against Pakistan

Resolute batting by England on the second day has put them in complete command of the first Test in Lahore.

After the brilliant opening stand on the previous day, this time it was the resolve of Graham Thorpe and Craig White in a superb sixth-wicket partnership that has taken England to a near impregnable position.

Resuming on the overnight score of 195 for four, England lost the wicket of Graeme Hick on 225 after nearly an hour's play. Taking into account the quick wickets that fell shortly before stumps on the first day, England's last four wickets had gone down for just 56 runs.

It appeared that England had frittered away a solid foundation, and to revive the innings it called for staunch rather than spectacular batting. Thorpe and White responded to the call with a four-and-a-half-hour partnership yielding 166 runs, the highest England sixth wicket stand against Pakistan. This surpassed the 120 run effort of Graeme Fowler and Vic Mark's in 1983 (the record for games in Pakistan) and the partnership of 153 by Peter Parfitt and Dave Allen at Edgbaston in 1962.

During their time at the crease they also passed the previous highest England total in Pakistan. That was a score of 380, in 1961, when England, under Ted Dexter, won the Test on this ground and registered their only series victory in this country.

Pakistan's bowlers made no impression on Thorpe and White as they batted with determination and concentration. Thorpe was content to work the ball for singles and twos and, remarkably, his seventh Test century (366 minutes, 255 balls), which he reached shortly after tea, contained only one boundary.

"It's irrelevant that I hit a single boundary in my hundred, what matters most is the century," Thorpe reasoned. "My innings has put my team in a winning position and I wanted that when I started on the first day. It's nice to play my part in a good total and I was concentrating hard in the middle."

Thorpe also pointed out that the manner in which England had coped with the Pakistan attack would have implications for the rest of the series.

"We've managed to bat for two days against their spinners. Psychologically we know we can hang in there against them, and that's a big boost to us. It doesn't mean we're going to win the Test series or anything like that but it means we've jumped a little hurdle out here mentally, and that helps."

White was more forceful when the ball was there to be hit but he too grafted for long spells, avoiding risky strokes. This was his second Test fifty, and easily surpassed the 51 against New Zealand in 1994.

Pakistan's two pace bowlers had long periods of rest. Most of the bowling fell to the four spinners that were used with Saqlain Mushtaq, who has taken all six wickets to fall, sharing the bulk of their attack with Mushtaq Ahmed.

White, who reached his fifty halfway through the second session, used his feet well to the spinners, as Thorpe did later in his innings. Thorpe was quick to pay tribute to the Yorkshire all-rounder: "Chalky played very well," he commented. "It's probably the best innings he has played for England. If you hang in there you start to work out different things they do with the ball. You can't relax because they have good spinners bowling at you and they can produce a delivery at any time that can get you out. You have to keep pushing yourself on, and Craig and I did that quite well."

On 64, White survived an appeal for a catch at silly-point and later, on 83, he had a close call for leg before wicket to a reverse swinging ball from Abdur Razzaq.

Pakistan's fielding became sluggish as the day progressed so completely in England's favour. They slowed down the play, with frequent changes in field placing, hoping that by reducing the overs bowled in the day, England would have less opportunity to score runs.

Pakistan's pace bowlers got no help from the docile wicket and the spinners found the turn was so slow that the batsmen were rarely hurried into playing their shots.

Finally, when Thorpe skied a return catch to Saqlain from an attempted sweep and was dismissed for 118, after a patient seven-hour innings, England were 391 for six.

White will resume his innings tomorrow, unbeaten on 89, and England can look forward to a most impressive first innings total. They were 393 for six when bad light stopped play a few minutes early.