Umar, fast bowlers seal tight win
Pakistan 165 for 5 (Umar 51, Harris 3-26) beat MCC 159 for 5 (Blizzard 73, Shoaib 2-19) by six runs
Umar Akmal's aggressive half century, combined with disciplined bowling efforts from Shoaib Akhtar and Saeed Ajmal, helped the Pakistanis to start their English summer with a six-run victory over MCC at Lord's on Sunday. Chasing a challenging target Aiden Blizzard kept MCC's hopes alive till the final over of the match. He put on 94 with Brian Lara - who managed a 32-ball 37 on his return to competitive cricket - but his sparkling 73 went in vain in the absence of any able support after Lara departed.
On a sun-drenched afternoon, when the whole of England watched in horror as the national football team fell apart against Germany in Bloemfontein, the Pakistanis started on a bright note with their opening pair of Shahzaib Hasan and Salman Butt rushing off the blocks against the odd new ball pair of Chaminda Vaas and Hamid Hassan of Afghanistan. Shahzaib was quick to pounce on the inexperience of his namesake as he repeatedly charged the Afghanistan quick to pick up easy runs.
The signs looked ominous for the hosts when the Pakistanis passed fifty in just the fifth over. Just then Shahzaib, in a rush-of-the-blood moment went to clear the leg-side boundary, but instead mistimed a pull which landed safely in the hands of Vaas behind square.
When Kamran Akmal and Butt fell in quick succession, the Pakistanis appeared to be in a spot of bother. But Umar has been one of Pakistan's best - if not the best - batsman in the last year and he unleashed his range of strokes while displaying a knack for smartly finding the gaps. Though the trio of Mohammad Nabi, Glenn Querl and Chris Harris managed to keep a tight leash on the Pakistanis, Umar remained patient and picked off any bad balls that came his way.
With the old warhorses Brian Lara and Sourav Ganguly in the batting ranks the target, though stiff, was not out of reach. Though Lara was playing his first match in nearly three years, he never showed any rust as his feet moved in line of the delivery with minimal fuss, and he played his strokes in his inimitable fashion. The raging cuts, the caressed late-cuts and steers, and the strong pull-shots all came stumbling out of the storeroom, as Lara overtook Blizzard, who couldn't have asked for a better birthday gift than standing and admiring the brilliance of the genius.
Lara had started off with a fluent cut against a wide delivery from Umar Gul, who was still warming up in his first over. He followed it with another boundary, as he walked across and pulled over midwicket. At the other end Blizzard was stealing singles and twos and charging the likes of Afridi, who he hit for a handsome six over widish long-on (his second).
Their alliance was steadily loosening the visitors' grip and to the delight of the 4000-strong crowd Gul bounced back with an inswinging yorker that beat Lara's high backlift before going on to splay the stumps. A year ago Gul was the best Twenty20 bowler in the world and he showed why he is rated so highly when he repeated the same delivery against Ganguly off the first ball off his next over.
The former Indian captain had already survived a close lbw appeal against Ajmal in the previous over. Shahid Afridi, like a predator, jumped on the nervous Ganguly, ribbing him with some sly remarks.
Ganguly was annoyed and shot back at his counterpart, asking him to stay away. Never shy to engage in mid-pitch banter, Afridi started walking towards Ganguly as the crowd started screaming excitedly. But Ganguly was not interested in any further conversation.
Blizzard maintained his calm and when 18 were needed in the final over it looked possible as he hit Mohammad Aamer over long-off for a six. But Aamer improved his length, pitching the ball much fuller to beat Blizzard's swing and end MCC's hopes.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo