November 18, 2000

Pakistan avert follow on despite England's domination

The 4th day of the 1st Test between England and Pakistan at the Gaddafi Stadium Lahore was a battle of wits between the two teams. While Pakistan's immediate objective was to avert the follow-on while Englands' was to prevent them from doing so. It looked a tall order when the Pakistan innings resumed at the overnight score of 119 for 2.

The morning being shrouded with fog and mist the atmosphere was heavy, providing an obvious advantage to the bowlers. Surprisingly the pitch was equally helpful to both spinners as well as pace bowlers. It had the high bounce with the ball at times coming through above the shoulder height. Despite the fact that skipper Nasser Hussain employed his bowling resources judiciously and sensibly, Pakistan was able to achieve its objective for the day.

Resuming the innings under unfavorable circumstances, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Saleem Elahi played with immense confidence raising the score to 189 when Saleem was bowled after scoring an invaluable 44. Pakistan's 200 of the innings came in 63 overs bringing the target of 281 to avert follow on closer. At this stage the England bowlers put tremendous pressure on the batsmen. Inzamam (63), Qaisar Abbas (2) and Moin Khan (17) were sent back to the pavilion one after the other. Pakistan was 236 for 6 with pressure increasing visibly due to the quick loss of wickets and their objective falling into the hands of tail-enders. Although England bowlers were completely in command of the game the batsmen did not lose hope. Facing heavy odds they slowly took the score to 272 when an otherwise bold batsman like Abdur Razzaq, was out after playing a restrained innings of 10 runs. Even a match winner like Wasim Akram, known for using the long handle came in and returned after offering an easy catch. His departure brought Pakistan to 273 for 8, only 8 runs short of the immediate objective. It was a slow, steady and cautious march towards the objective with little left in Pakistan's kitty.

Yousuf Youhana, the gladiator of a batsman was still at the crease with off spinner Saqlain Mushtaq holding the other end. With a magnificent haul of 8 wickets Saqlain had displayed his magic with the ball, but holding the crease for long at the moment of absolute crisis was a Herculian task for him. His job was to stay at the crease with Youhana doing the rest. Nasser Hussain did his best to scare the youngster by putting on spin bowlers with a trap of five closein fielders around him but Saqlain kept his cool. Tea was taken when Pakistan was 276 for 8 with tension at its peak.

Though it may not have been possible for England to get Pakistan out twice in the match, still averting the follow on mattered a lot to Pakistan. It was certainly an important step to avert a possible defeat. For the calm and quiet groups of spectators who cheered for every single run, it was like achieving a victory. The new ball that was due much earlier was taken immediately after tea and a defensive circle of fielders formed with the aim of preventing Pakistan from avoiding the follow on. Showing tremendous courage the two batsmen, however, continued taking singles whenever possible. Youhana who was now batting at 40 drove the ball for a single to take the total to 280. In the next over by Gough, Saqlain managed a single to make it 281 and relieve everybody of the mounting tension. The objective for the day was achieved as if Pakistan had won the match.

With the this landmark achieved, the two sides took a sigh of relief. Pakistan satisfied to have averted a possible defeat and England reconciled to the fact that they did their best. The day's play ended with Pakistan at 333 for 8, Youhana (77) and Saqlain (14) continuing to hold the crease. Both had shown unprecedented courage to hold on against an avalanche of pressure exerted by England. Nasser Hussain deserved bouquets for his remarkable sense of handling the field and use of resources. He used his spinners as well as pace bowlers to their maximum effect. Giles grabbed 3 wickets for 97 while White bowling with vigour claimed 3 for 48. At times he looked absolutely unplayable, a fine prospect for England.

With Pakistan having averted the follow on, the match seems headed towards a definite draw. The 5th day falling on a Sunday, it is quite likely that the spectators would prefer to relax at home than travel to the stadium.