England v Pakistan, 3rd npower Test, The Oval, 3rd day August 20, 2010

Pakistan poised for redemption

On August 20, 2006 Pakistan forfeited a match after ball tampering allegations were levelled against them. On August 20, 2010 they stand tall and clean

That old Pakistan trait for doing the unthinkable has resurfaced. At tea on Friday afternoon their miserable series seemed to be getting worse as Alastair Cook laid a platform for a large England lead with a belligerent century. Kevin Pietersen had started off with positive intent and was forming a steady alliance with Jonathan Trott, who demonstrated his typically unflappable patience at the crease. Pakistan's bowlers had toiled hard through the first two sessions for the paltry return of two wickets.

Then something bizarre started to happen. The sellout crowd, which was clapping and joyously celebrating England gaining the upperhand suddenly started to grimace before eventually falling silent. In the penultimate hour of the day, England lost six wickets with the A-team of Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Amir playing destroyers-in-chief. Not for the first time Pakistan had pulled the rug from under the opponent's feet.

Turn back the clock and you will find many moments where Pakistan's bowlers have stunned the senses with their wizardry: through the tumultuous English summer of '92, then the one-off Hamilton Test a year later when New Zealand plunged from 67 for 3 to 93 all out chasing 127; At Lord's in 1996 England, batting for a draw on the fifth day, were going steady at 171 for 2 chasing an unattainable 408 before being shunted out for 242. Move on to Old Trafford in 2001 when England again were aiming for a draw on the final day before Pakistan snapped up eight quick wickets in the final session. If Australia do not give up till the very last minute, Pakistan have a unique ability to surprise at any time.

Coming back to The Oval, Pakistan were playing second fiddle in the first two sessions. The demons of the past defeats on this tour returned when Cook was dropped in his 20s as a thick outside edge flew between the yawning divide between the first two slips: Imran Farhat and Yasir Hameed. Both men stared at each other like wax models. Salman Butt rushed across and moved them into the right positions.

Far from being hilarious, it was getting frustrating for the bowlers. The prevailing blanket of grey cloud was the right canvas for Mohammad Asif to paint England's doom. But the slowness of the pitch restricted him from using a free hand. Still he persevered by trying to inject more pace and force the batsman to play on the backfoot. Immediately after lunch Trott played out three maidens from Asif before taking his first run after a 22-ball score-less sequence. Asif was growing tired and his frustration spilled out when he gifted Cook a comeback century with an unnecessary shy which flew over the wicketkeeper's head.

At the other end Ajmal was constantly firing in his doosra which both Cook and Trott, and later Pietersen, struggled to read, but they kept getting easy runs off the loose balls in the over. Wahab Riaz, who had celebrated his debut with a five-for on the first day, had only one wicket, that of Cook mid-way through the second session. England's lead was building. All this was not going according to script for Pakistan.

There had already been signs of spin and bounce, which Graeme Swann utilised cleverly yesterday. The combination of a dry surface and an old ball also made conditions ripe for reverse swing. Yet Amir was given just two overs between lunch and tea. Allied with Ajmal's struggle to find his rhythm early on, it all amounted to further frustration. Butt, however, had a plan and stuck to it. The reason he did not unleash Amir, he later explained, was because he did not want to exhaust all his bowlers at the same time.

When Amir returned for the final session he immediately cupped both hands to hide the shine on the ball and got enough reverse swing to force doubts into the batsman's mind. Once again, he got a wicket in his first over. Trott, despite his long vigil, chased a wide, angling delivery to offer a simple catch. Paul Collingwood was beaten by subtle away movement while Matt Prior, England's best batsman in the series, was clueless. It was not that Amir was unplayable. He just invaded the batsman's psyche with the thought that he could do something special.

It proved to be a catalyst for Ajmal at the other end, who mixed his variations cleverly from around the stumps, and quickly got the big scalps of Pietersen and Eoin Morgan. "The mystery ball [doosra] has done the trick for him as most batsmen find it hard to pick," Butt said. "Even till today we can't pick it in the nets." The biggest problem for the batsman, Butt reckons, is Ajmal is the only bowler who delivers both the straight one and the one comes back a little bit with the same action.

Saturday could mark a special day for Pakistan. Their foot soldiers, the bowlers, have got them once again to the doorstep of victory. The significance of a win at The Oval will not have escaped them. On August 20, 2006 Pakistan forfeited a match after ball tampering allegations were levelled against them. On August 20, 2010 they stand tall and clean with a chance for redemption.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Senthil on August 21, 2010, 14:20 GMT

    Agree with Mohammad Akhlaq here! What makes India produce an endless line of exciting batsmen and Pakistan an endless line of very good bowlers? IF only the two countries had not separated....! One wishes, but then, nice to have two teams being such good rivals too. I hope the charity series becomes a reality and we have an exciting series, no matter the outcome. Please Pakistan, spruce up your batting. You guys will make even India's depleted bowling attack look good right now. What's going on? Your batsmen are all asleep?

  • Senthil on August 21, 2010, 14:14 GMT

    As I write this, Pakistan are 3 runs away from winning this Test against England. I am an India supporter but I would be hopping mad if Pakistan somehow contrived to not win this one. Doesn't matter how much we love seeing India bash Pakistan, I always want to see Pakistan play positive, fearless cricket, even against India! (Ah! Pakistan win!). The reason is pretty simple - not many teams play attractive cricket these days. God bless Pakistan for making them the unpredictable team they are. It is horrible to see them go down for 88 for sure, but no other team is so exciting to see winning from impossible situations. Now, just one request for all the newfound millionaires from the IPL - please try and beat India's offer of $5mil aid to the flood victims in Pakistan. Time to get their lives back on track. Oh, sure, looking forward to that charity series between India and Pakistan - finally a real purpose to our cricketing rivalry.

  • Owais on August 21, 2010, 12:22 GMT

    Yousuf Must Stay There Till The End To Ensure Victory For Pakistan............. You Never Know With Pakistan's Batting, They Can Do Wonders On A Day And Get Out In A Space Of 13 Overs On The Very Next Day!!!!

  • rob on August 21, 2010, 11:21 GMT

    Pakistan breathe life into the great game. Expect the unexpected. I'm a South African fan, but love the variety Pakistan bring, especially their bowlers. I wished they played tests more often.

    It would be a timely victory given the Indus calamity, a ray of hope amidst such suffering.

  • Waqas on August 21, 2010, 10:03 GMT

    Well Well Well, there is nothing much can be said. Pakistan bowlers have been the stars. They have done all best the could do and really you can not ask more than this. However, the batting has been improved and middle order looks stonger with return of yusuf, but still whenever it comes chasing, pakistan fell down on various occasion. We have seen them loosing winning matches. A year ago in Australia and Newzeland as well as in srilanka. Their bowlers have been soo strong and we have to admit one thing here that the current bowling attack of pakistan is batter than any other team in the world. Now let us pray that pur batting clicks again as it was in first inning and let them have another victory and certainly they deserve for this. God Bless Pakistan.

  • Dummy4 on August 21, 2010, 9:57 GMT

    Better remove Ijaz Butt from the board and set a guy who got some brain.

  • Dummy4 on August 21, 2010, 9:44 GMT

    Just one Match Drop of Kamran Works out his ability of Wicket keeping become more strong because this is his career saving test otherwise in new series he will be sit out and Zulqarnain will replace him easily

  • Dummy4 on August 21, 2010, 9:41 GMT

    Remember pakistan bowled out twice in this tour below 146!! So, pray for them to finish well.

  • Dummy4 on August 21, 2010, 9:37 GMT

    oh man i am so excited and nervous given the nature of Pakistan cricketers unpredictably,its is 2:35 am here in California and i am patiently waiting for the day 4 play to start.good luck Team Pakistan , regardless of the results they put up a great show. :)

  • Zahid on August 21, 2010, 9:35 GMT

    Nagraj great article!! And ShankarG your comments about brotherhood brought tears to my eyes. Godbless all of you and let cricket be the peace mill!!!!

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