November 18, 2000

Pakistan forced into a tight corner

Saqlain scoops career best 8 wickets: Lahore, Nov 17: Saqlain Mushtaq missed a possible chance of picking up a 'perfect 10' while Pakistan had their tail between their legs against England at stumps on the third day of the first cricket Test at the Qadhafi Stadium on Friday.

Saqlain captured all the eight wickets that fell and improved his previous best innings figures of six for 46 against Australia in the Hobart Test last season.

But he was denied the chance of taking a shot at the remaining two as the tourists declared their first innings at the lunch score of 480 for eight. The 23-year-old spin wizard finished conceding 164 runs from 74 marathon overs - the most he has bowled in an innings.

When fading light, which improved after the teams had left, stopped play with eight overs still to be bowled, Pakistan had reached 119 for the loss of both the openers.

Salim Elahi (15) and Inzamam-ul-Haq (11) will resume Pakistan's long struggle on Saturday morning when play starts 30 minutes earlier to compensate for the lost time.

Pakistan are now battling for survival as all their hopes and big claims to proceed to Faisalabad with a 1-0 lead now look out of question. England can only lose from this point if they bowl really poorly and bat horribly in the second innings.

For Pakistan, the most important thing now is to reach 281 so that they can avert the anomaly of batting again in the match. They still require 162 which will not be as simple as it looks because the pitch is not conducive to stroke-play and Pakistan batsmen love to play their shots which can end in disaster as in the case of Shahid Afridi. He scored 52 off 68 balls with six fours and a six.

The Pathan after having done all the hard work once again perished while attempting to hit the ball out of the stadium and ended up holing out to Darren Gough at mid-off. Shahid showed his frustration and anger by hitting his bat hard on the wicket.

At a time when Pakistan required some sensible and mature innings from the top order, Shahid's shot was reckless and reprehensible. After having seen Saeed Anwar (40) dismissed while offering no stroke on the second ball of the final over before tea, he should have realized what was expected of him and how he was supposed to build his innings.

Now the onus of pulling Pakistan out of hot waters lies on the broad shoulders of Inzamam-ul-Haq who is the only experienced batsman left. Yousuf Youhana, Salim Elahi and Qaisar Abbas are relatively inexperienced and should surely need a head like Inzamam to guide them through.

It is so depressing that Pakistan's lacklustre performance in this match has overshadowed a magnificent and brilliant bowling performance of Saqlain Mushtaq. Pakistan would have liked the same commitment and discipline from their other `superstar' bowlers.

Not only Saqlain failed to receive the support he would have liked from the other end, his colleagues also let him down with their lethargic showing in the field. Despite the fact that England's ninth pair was in and lunch time approaching fast, the Pakistan fielders moved around at a leisurely pace and wasted precious time.

Since Andrew Caddick was throwing his bat at almost everything, there was a very good chance that Saqlain might have picked his wicket. But that didn't happen and England wisely declared their innings and in the meantime saved themselves from the embarrassment of going into the record books as one of the three teams to be bowled out by one bowler.

Saqlain was simply marvellous. He spun the ball well, varied his length and controlled the pace.

Saqlain, who began the day with figures of six for 131, soon added the scalp of overnight batsman Craig White who could add only four runs to his last evening's score of 89.

Saqlain completed his tally when he trapped his county-mate Ian Salisbury LBW but not before the batsman had contributed 31 runs and consumed 150 minutes.

Ashley Giles remained unbeaten on 37 to add to the agony of the Pakistanis who had come into the match with the prediction of toying with the Englishmen because of the quality of spinners they had.

Whether it was the character of the pitch or poor bowling by the spinners, the England batsmen's performance will certain give them a big heart when they face Pakistan in the remaining two Tests. Their performance has clearly put things in the right prospective that they will not be easy prey on spinning tracks.

But before Pakistan look forward to the next two weeks and change their gameplan, they have a job in hand in this Test. There is no reason why Pakistan batsmen cannot save the match because if the Englishmen can bat with patience and concentration, so can the hosts. After all, such conditions are not unusual to them.