England v Pakistan, 2nd npower Test, Edgbaston, 3rd day August 8, 2010

England encounter some timely defiance


This was the day of defiance that this series so desperately needed. Against all expectations - not least those of England's bowlers who had envisaged two days of R & R - Pakistan located the cornered-tiger spirit that has long been their tactic of last resort, and conjured up a batting display that started out with dedication and erupted into delight. Under the clearest skies of the contest, and with little fear of lateral movement, Pakistan overcame their suspicions about a two-paced surface and were able to remember the simple pleasures of putting bat to ball.

By the close Pakistan's lead was a slender 112, but even that was 40 runs more than they themselves had mustered in their first innings - not to mention 24 runs better than the total for which they had skittled Australia at Headingley. "Cricket is such a game that you are never out of it until it ends," said Pakistan's captain, Salman Butt. "This is a total that teams can get out to, and with the kind of bowling we have - and the wicket has taken spin as well - we surely have a chance."

There are the inevitable precedents for the sort of capitulation that Butt is now envisaging - at Sydney in 1993-94, Fanie de Villiers produced the spell of his life as Australia crumbled to 111 all out, chasing 117, while at Edgbaston in 1981, Ian Botham's summer of miracles continued with his 5 for 1 in 28 balls as the Aussies once again tripped up in sight of a straightforward victory. With Umar Gul injured, pride is probably as much as Pakistan can hope to salvage in this particular contest, but with them you never know. With a sniff of incentive to fire up their fielders, and some all-important cloud cover to get Amir and Asif in the groove, they've certainly got the guns to give England a real fright.

It might seem strange, then, to suggest that England needed a day like this as well. They might not appreciate the reminder right this minute, but all summer long, a suspicion has lingered that they've simply had it too good. When, for instance, Azhar Ali punched James Anderson through mid-off for 2, it was the first time in four innings Pakistan had reached 50 with fewer than six wickets down. On the one hand such a statistic underlines the sheer excellence of England's efforts with the ball; on the other, it begs numerous questions about the application of Pakistan's batsmen, as well as England's troubling lack of incisiveness when at last those clouds deigned to shift.

"The wicket is as dead as a dormouse," said England's spinner, Graeme Swann, whose career-best figures of 6 for 60 did at least suggest that, like one of those chalet-shaped barometers featuring a husband and wife on a pivot, England's attack does contain options for rain and shine alike. But Swann can only bowl from one end at a time, and once his initial threat had been negated, his colleagues found no alternative means of getting past Pakistan's ever-broadening bats. As Stuart Broad's latest and most irksome case of white-line fever demonstrated, they did not enjoy the hard yakka one little bit.

"Pakistan made us work really hard, but I don't think it is any surprise that that was going to happen at some stage," said Swann. "We have bowled them out cheaply three times in the series so far, so it's just the way the innings went. It led to a few frustrations because of the fact we got through the top order and it was the guys lower down who made us work, but Pakistan deserve the plaudits rather than us getting the downers."

That may indeed be the case, for Zulqarnain Haider's first substantial Test innings was a treat to behold. He reacted to his incredible king-pair reprieve like a man who believed that destiny had just spoken, and he found in Amir and Saeed Ajmal a superbly contrasting pair of allies - one who wormed his way under England's skin with his limp-batted refusal to budge, and another whose array of leg-side biffs carried the fight to another level, once the threat of an innings defeat had been averted and the onus shifted to the creation of a defendable lead.

But in dealing with both challenges, England found themselves distinctly lacking in ideas. "I took a perverse pleasure in watching Ajmal get his fifty," said Swann. "It was a knock that I like to play with fielders spread all over the place and annoying the bowlers, but we lost our way a little bit when he was batting. We probably went to three men out, bowling bouncers, a little bit early. But I thought they stuck at it very well - it was so slow, so turgid for the seamers."

It has been a year of strange and unsettling contrasts for England. In the space of five days they rolled Pakistan for consecutive totals of 80 and 72, having claimed 20 wickets in the space of two sessions in their previous Test outing, against Bangladesh at Old Trafford in June. Prior that, however, Tamim Iqbal had slammed 266 runs from 276 balls in three of the most carefree onslaughts imaginable, and if you rewind even further, to the first Test in Chittagong, it was Swann himself who lost his rag through frustration, as Junaid Siddique's century kept England waiting for their hardest-earned win of the year.

Australia's batsmen will have watched today's events with interest. Notes will have been taken - much like the ones that John Buchanan is bringing in the other direction in his newly-announced capacity as an ECB consultant - and a tendency towards toothlessness will have been acknowledged, regardless of the rip that Swann applied to his third delivery of the match, an absolute snorter that pitched outside Imran Farhat's leg stump and clipped the top of off.

Magic balls are one thing, but a lack of mystery is another - and there's something a touch transparent about England's attack when the heavens conspire against them. Ajmal Shahzad, and his ability to reverse-swing the old ball at pace, would have been an asset in the circumstances, but in the absence of a five-man attack, his is a luxury that is unlikely to be countenanced.

Right at this moment, clear skies conjure up images of just one contest - the Ashes. And if England's sights are set on world domination, as Andrew Strauss declared they were before this Test, then it is no use for them to be big cats at home, but pussycats abroad - which is the very same accusation that was levelled at the current No.1 Test team, India, throughout the 1990s. Up until now, the attack has been spoiled by swing-friendly conditions, and while the advantage they have taken has been thrilling to behold, it's not exactly prepared them for the challenges that lie ahead.

"It's not a bad thing that we've had to work to get ourselves into this position," admitted Swann. "After getting three or four early wickets you do hope you will be able to go through, but they applied themselves well and put on two big partnerships, dead-batting the ball on a slow wicket."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Graham on August 9, 2010, 12:11 GMT

    Anderson made a big thing about 'Plan A' being that England assume they won't get assistance from the wicket or overhead conditions and concentrate on line and length. Unfortunately it seems that the first opportunity they get to prove that this isn't just hot air, they blow it. Broad gets petulant, Anderson lacks incisiveness and Finn is still a work in progress. The only bowler who held the show together was Swann.

    If this scenario isn't to be played out again and again in Australi, England still have much work to do.

  • Bobby on August 9, 2010, 10:41 GMT

    Absolutely agree with everything written. In recent times Pakistan has been missing the customary fight that had made Pakistani cricket team of pasts to win from near death situations. Zulqarnain has proven to be a MAN among the boy. Superb innings. He not only outscored every English batsman but he also out psyched them. He has touches of Javed Miandad..A brual shrewed fighter... Zulqarnain also had a decent wicket keeping stint..Actually excellent compared to Kamran Akmal. Lets do not forget amazing effort of Saeed Ajmal. It is a time to get rid of dead wood such as Imran Farhat and Shoib Mailk. These pretenders do not desrve a place. Kamran Akmal should never again play for Pakistan. He has given pain and misry to entire nation. Imagine if Pakistan could have won Sydney test. While Umar Akmal is over rated and should also be dropped. It is time to bring back Yousaf, Younis, Yasir, Asim Kamal and Khurram Manzoor…! Future is bright! This failure will see seeds for long term harvest.

  • Ross on August 9, 2010, 9:57 GMT

    I agree with the sentiment, let's not get too carried away with this England side just yet. Certainly they are a solid professional outfit, but they are still a bit short in both batting and bowling. Finn is a young lad who still needs to learn how to do more with the ball, Broad blows hot and cold and is still averaging in the mid-30s and if 'Bad Jimmy' turns up he's not much use at all. Swann is doing brilliantly, but he will find the next three series - Australia, Sri Lanka and India a real test of his credentials. Personally I would like to see a fifth bowler in there, but without a true world class batsman I can understand why they are sticking with four. England are still a work in progress then, promising but not there yet.

  • Powderdubdub on August 9, 2010, 9:33 GMT

    After watching the batting from pakistan's No.7 batsman onwards a young boy asked me why Pakistan not play 11 bowlers in their team. It is not unusual to see the lower order batting resistance in other teams, in case of Pakistan that is the only resistance if there is any, how sad. The two heros are the two new faces in test cricket, lets have a few more.

  • A on August 9, 2010, 8:25 GMT

    What a great day of cricket. If Pakistan had shown even 5% of this character in their first innings and posted maybe 20 more runs, then caught on to even just THREE of the NINE catches they dropped in England's innings and perhaps restricted them, quite realistically, to 160 ish, we could have a real test match on our hands. Salman Butt must go out all guns blazing and attack, and not for one moment think of constricting runs. 112 (or if they manage another 10, 15 runs this morning) is very low but if its overcast in Birmingham a very aggressive field plan and swing bowling could make this a real corker!

  • Dummy4 on August 9, 2010, 6:35 GMT

    Pakistan might not win but still the battle to fight it out by the lower order of Pakistan was a treat to watch on the 3rd days play and specially the new wicket keeper zulqarnain's 88 on debut was excellent. I hope we dont have to see that bloody Kamran Akmal the loser again in any of Pakistan's outfits for test and ODIs. But something tells me we just cant get rid of bloody losers like akmal brothers, malik, imran farhat in test teams of pakistan.

  • waseem on August 9, 2010, 5:42 GMT

    well England needed that and i hope they will not find any swing or help from pitch in Ashes so Swann holds the key for England. For this series if Pakistan had played with their best batters it would have been much difficult for England to go pass.

  • Dummy4 on August 9, 2010, 5:10 GMT

    England has always been so over rated that even its difficult to see how good a good team is. This is a good team but it does require a kind of fast bowler who would be a strike bowler under any conditions (New ball, old ball, cloud cover, clear skies, dead pitch, seaming pitch, England, elsewhere) to become a world beater team.

  • Syed Arbab on August 9, 2010, 4:46 GMT

    You never know; when its PAKISTAN. Who knows, they may roar from no where again....

  • Mradul on August 9, 2010, 4:35 GMT

    Good Article Mr Miller. Just one thought, why do you think India is being considered Tigers at home and Pussycats in the foreign lands during 2000s? 1990s i accept but not 2000s. Since the beginning of this century (2000s) i don't remember England beating us in a series (Home and Away), but they lost to us twice. Against Aussies (best team during this Era) we have the best record since 2000s (both Home and Away W/L: 1.0). We have beaten NZ, Pak and WI in away series's as well and beaten SA and SL in tests at their home grounds. Our Away record since Jan 2000 is p:61, W:22, L:20 W/L:1.10 which is 3rd best not far behind 2nd placed SA(1.26). Infact Since Jan 2000 India has Won atleast 1 test in every test playing nation. When you are writing an Article and mentioning the current No.1 team then you should get your facts right else you will end up sounding like certain Mr Sanga who after one test win started questioning the Ranking system itself

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