Uncertain Kaneria fails to make his mark
Under bright skies in Nottingham and on a dry, low pitch, today was not a day for the fast bowlers to run rampant. Instead with plenty of turn on offer it was a day begging for the spinners to take control. Yet Pakistan's most experienced Test player, and their premier slow bowler, failed to rise to the occasion. Danish Kaneria will do well to keep his head down.
After the first session, where Mohammad Aamer had grabbed a couple of early wickets, Pakistan returned with a plan. First Mohammad Asif attacked Kevin Pietersen's off stump fervently and was rewarded when he got his man for the fifth time in seven games in England. Soon afterwards Aamer defeated Jonathan Trott's shuffle across the stumps to trap him leg before. With two new batsmen and Pakistan on top, Salman Butt brought Kaneria into the attack.
Having played 61 Tests Kaneria knew the plan: fire in the stock delivery and keep firing. It was the best way to play on the batsman's patience. Instead, for some inexplicable reason, Kaneria kept rushing in to deliver flatter, faster and fuller. Line, length, flight, variation - the basics of slow bowling - were completely ignored on the first day.
Throughout his five spells, Kaneria arrived at the crease like an ill-prepared student at an exam. Edgy, he was randomly ticking boxes, stabbing in the dark for the right formula. Eoin Morgan and Paul Collingwood sensed his anxiety and took full advantage. Full tosses were driven handsomely through yawning gaps on both sides of the wicket and straight balls were either deflected or cut with power for easy runs. Morgan, playing only his third Test, could even unleash his trademark reverse sweep as Kaneria sent down another innocuous leg break - a shot which created further gaps in an already stretched field.
Sadly, Pakistan's captain must share part of the blame. Considering the pitch was offering generous turn and surprising uneven bounce at times, Butt would've done well to keep Kaneria locked in at one end. In the past Kaneria has shown the appetite to bowl long spells and build pressure on the batsmen. A recent example was in Sydney at the beginning of this year where, returning from a finger injury, he spun a tight web around the nervous Australian middle order and, were it not for the appalling glovework of Kamran Akmal, would've helped Pakistan to victory.
Yet here Kaneria was not allowed to settle. He should have prodded and pleaded his skipper, still an infant as captain, to leave him operating at one end. That might have helped him buy time to work out the right plan to overhaul the opponent, but it wasn't to be.
As the English pair grew confident Kaneria grew timid. He was twitching and frustrated. It did not help when Akmal, the worst offender of the day, missed an easy stumping when Collingwood charged. Kaneria couldn't believe it but it was, of course, not the first time. At the SCG Kamran had failed to get rid of Michael Hussey three times in one Kaneria over including a stumping opportunity. It was that sort of a day for Pakistan's two most experienced players - both displayed frayed nerves, distracted mindsets and a complete lack of authority.
Nevertheless Kaneria cannot hang on to that one missed opportunity because it was the only chance he created in 21 overs. There was so much more he could have done. For starters he could have set his own fields, something successful bowlers always like to do. It was his responsibility in the light of Butt's inexperience. Minor things like that always prove pivotal in a Test.
Kaneria is Pakistan's fourth-best bowler of all time in terms of wickets but is yet to show the pro-activeness to impose himself, to take the decisions that will prove decisive or to have the aura past bowling greats like Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Abdul Qadir possessed. Instead he is happy to be put on a leash and be led.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo