Pitch invasion should not detract from majestic Pakistan performance
A partnership of 150 runs between Saeed Anwar and Inzamam-ul-Haq was the foundation for a comfortable 108-run Pakistan win in the first game of the 2001 NatWest Series, though the moment of victory was delayed by a pitch invasion from over-enthusiastic supporters.
By the time the floodlights came into full effect, the lights were already out on England's chances of success. They had been dealt a couple of blows even before the toss; Andrew Caddick and Graham Thorpe both out injured with back and calf problems respectively, but such was the quality of Pakistan's cricket that any team would have struggled to suppress them.
Waqar Younis won the toss and elected to bat on a dry looking pitch. Unsettled by the chip and charge tactics of Shahid Afridi and the pure class of Saeed, the English bowlers were always on the defensive and supplied a liberal quantity of short balls and full tosses. Saeed's innings was a gem. He began with an imperious pull off Darren Gough and found the gaps with ease to pick off ones and twos. The flicked, seemingly effortless, six into the Eric Hollies stand, followed by a deliberate thick edge for four off successive Ealham deliveries illustrated his class eloquently.
Azhar Mahmood weighed in with a quickfire 38 (in 24 balls) down the order to compound England's misery, but it was the third-wicket pair who altered the course of this match.
England must be heartily sick of Inzamam's batting by now. In form like this he seems to possess all the time in the world and has the power to toy with any but the finest bowlers. It was an awesome display, mixing belligerent power with deft flicks and placement perhaps typified best by the semi-sweep he played off Ben Hollioake the ball after blasting him over cover. He bullied the bowlers; taking up from where he had left off at Old Trafford and if he hadn't perished, well caught by Marcus Trescothick, running in at deep cover, 300 may well have been attainable.
In the 24th over, Dominic Cork, following through and attempting to kick the ball on to the stumps, had given Inzamam a little push out of the way in his desire to effect a run-out. This infuriated Inzamam, and Stewart had to stand between the two and apply admirable levels of diplomacy. It clearly worked as batsman and bowler shook hands after the next delivery.
Mark Ealham retained control admirably amid the carnage about him but it was a chastening day for the young all-rounders given their chance in the absence of Craig White and Andrew Flintoff; Paul Collingwood - two overs for 18 and two runs and Hollioake six runs to add to his return of six overs for 53. Alan Mullally showed his value, providing some options for his captain but England still have some work to do in rebuilding for the 2003 World Cup.
From the moment that Trescothick got a leading edge to a Waqar slower delivery and skied the ball to Younis Khan at point, England looked doomed. The recalled Alistair Brown had already departed, caught behind attempting to guide the ball through point.
The seamers did most of the damage, particularly a fiery, frugal spell from the all-rounders; Abdur Razzaq and Mahmood. Stewart, conscious of the danger of becoming bogged down with such a testing target, tried to pierce the offside ring with a lofted drive. A marvellously athletic catch by the substitute fielder, Shoaib Malik, flying parallel to the ground, sent him back for ten and England were 69-3. Vaughan followed in similar fashion, forced to accelerate before he was ready, and Collingwood was trapped lbw by Razzaq, playing around a straight one.
Saqlain Mushtaq is quite a bowler to bring on when the score is 107-5, and he soon dispensed with Hollioake, well held off his own bowling. Shahid Afridi rubbed salt in the wound, bowling Cork with his top-spinning first ball after a jaunty knock of 18, and trapping Gough lbw in similar style. This left only Knight, after a sticky start, to lead England to something near respectability. His 93-ball 50 and a lengthy last-wicket stand with Mullally were attempts to salvage something from a bleak day for the hosts.
The game ended in something near farce as a disgraceful pitch invasion delayed the finish. With England 159-9 after 43.3 overs several thousand supporters converged on the pitch and stole the stumps and stump microphones. People will moan if barriers are erected around the playing area but there will be no option if this is to become commonplace.
The sight of Waqar Younis walking around the boundary pleading with fans to keep off the playing area had the desired effect: he told them that England would be declared winners if the match was unable to resume after a 31-minute hiatus though it appears in light of regulations 10 and 11 of the playing conditions if the match had been abandoned Pakistan would have been awarded victory under the D/L. Neither side's run-rate would have carried forward to the final table.
Saeed Anwar had to come off the pitch to plead further with supporters who caused further disruption after one more ball. Finally the game resumed and Mullally was caught behind of Afridi to seal the second 108-run victory of the week for Pakistan over England
But it would be a shame if this incident was to detract from the carnival atmosphere that the game was conducted in. During a time of race riots in the north of England, a crowd seemingly split equally between English and Pakistan supporters thrived on each other's enthusiasm and passion and a packed Edgbaston was the more colourful for it.
Saeed Anwar won the man of the match award and Waqar paid tribute to him in the post-match press conference, as well as his two all-rounders, Razzaq and Azhar, and Inzamam. He also thanked the passionate support his side received from the large Pakistan contingent in the crowd.
With Waqar's side just running into top form, and growing accustomed to English conditions while Australia struggle against the English counties, Pakistan must now be favourites for this series. In today's form they'll prove hard to beat.