November 17, 2000

England post 393 for six after record stand: Thorpe slams a gutsy century

Lahore, Nov 16: Pakistan were left scratching their heads in the first cricket Test after England reached an imposing 393 for six at stumps on the second day at the Qadhafi Stadium on Thursday.

Graham Thorpe played one of the finest innings ever seen in modern day cricket while scoring a dogged 118, the seventh century of his 61-Test career, while Craig White mixed his aggression with solid defence to finish undefeated at 89, easily his Test best.

The two featured in a record-breaking 166-run sixth-wicket partnership against Pakistan, surpassing the previous best of 153 - unbroken - by Peter Parfitt (101) and David Allen (79) at Edgbaston in 1962.

Pakistan's magician spinner Saqlain Mushtaq picked up both the wickets England lost on Thursday to end with six for 131, his 11th five-wicket haul in an innings. But for the second successive day he struggled for support from the other end.

Mushtaq Ahmad was far from his best. Shahid Afridi and Qaisar Abbas were used sparingly while Wasim Akram was underbowled. With Pakistan deciding to go into the match with just Wasim, he was expected to bowl a lot more than he did in the end. He turned down just seven overs on Thursday to his nine on the first day.

Nevertheless, whatever Wasim bowled, he didn't look impressive. He was wayward, short of length and failed to rattled the Englishmen with his trademark controlled swinging deliveries. The deadly yorkers which not only crushed the toes of many batsmen in the past but also earned him prized scalps, were not tried for reasons best known to the leftarmer.

Such was Wasim's lacklustre performance that skipper Moin Khan used him for just 4.5 overs when the wicket-keeper decided to take the second new ball after 115.1 overs.

Wasim's performance over the two days leaves a big question mark over his fitness and form. Unless he comes up with something special later in this game, which surely he is capable of, the selectors will have to do a serious thinking before considering him for the remaining games.

The wicket certainly had nothing for the 34-year-old bowler but Wasim is experienced enough to extract something for him from the surface and would have tried reverse swing. At least he could have pitched the ball up and made the batsmen play on the front foot rather than testing them with short-pitched stuff which were at times wide outside the off-stump.

Moin's captaincy also left much to be desired. He didn't plug the huge gaps in the field to make the Englishmen work harder for the ones and twos which was easily available.

The pitch itself surprised everyone with its behaviour. The cracks, which looked loose, never opened wide; the ball against expectations didn't turn viciously nor did it keep low. The surface was neither conducive for stroke-play as evident from the fact that on the second day, only 198 runs were scored. One is not sure if England's gameplan was to stretch the game and occupy the crease as much as possible.

Nevertheless, it has yet to be seen if the pitch changes its characteristics in remaining three days of this opening Test.

But whether Pakistan bowled poorly or the pitch didn't support the home bowlers, credit cannot be taken away from Thorpe for playing such a wonderful innings. He was a model of concentration and application while knocking the ball in the gaps for ones and twos.

Thorpe cracked just two boundaries in his innings of little under seven hours. For those interested in statistics, his century included just one boundary which itself is a world record. He beats Paul Gibb's record who had hit two boundaries in his century against South Africa at Kingsmead in Durban in the timeless Test in 1938-39. Unfortunately, the 10-day Test had ended in a draw as the Englishmen shipped out on the last ship after the war broke out in Europe.

Thorpe's innings was a perfect lesson for the youngsters watching him. The secret to his innings was he knew where his off-stump was which made him dominate the Pakistanis, particularly Saqlain, his team-mate at Surrey.

Thorpe played just two false shots in his entire 301-ball innings. He benefited from the first shortly before tea on Wednesday when he was put down by Qaisar Abbas at slip. But couldn't survive from the second when he found the leading edge off an attempted sweep against Saqlain, who took held the return catch.

Thorpe not only established himself as a player who will play a key figure in England's hopes of finishing the series with a respectable performance, he made amends for withdrawing from last year's tour of South Africa to spend time with his family.

Such was Thorpe's mental toughness that he refused to be carried away by excellent stroke-play by Craig White from the other end who canned eight boundaries and two sixes in his exquisite 272-minute innings during which he faced 185 balls.

White, who walked in after Graeme Hick was trapped in front of the stumps just before the first water break, started off by taking the attack to the Pakistanis by whacking them all over the place before controlling his emotions by playing straight and with discipline.

White swept elegantly and showed perfect timing while hitting Shahid Afridi and Saqlain Mushtaq for sixes at mid-off and mid-wicket. The way White is batting, only he himself can throw away the chance to convert this innings into his maiden Test and 10th first-class century.

Pakistan are by no means out of this game but they have to bat like the tourists to come close to England's score or even take some lead.