May 18, 2001

Hussain and Thorpe half-centuries boost England

Nasser Hussain took inspiration from his trustworthy batting partner and best mate Graham Thorpe when he made a half-century in the First npower Test match against Pakistan at Lord's.

The England captain has been in the batting doldrums since he took over as captain two years ago but his unbeaten 53 was his highest Test score at home since 1999 when he made 61 against New Zealand, also at Lord's.

It signalled a welcome return to form for Hussain who dropped himself down the order to improve his and England's batting performances for this match. But while he showed traces of anxiety throughout his 156-ball innings, Thorpe displayed a sure-footed mastery at the other end with a stream of superbly timed shots all round the wicket.

When he reached his half-century, he had struck the boundary seven times, forever splicing a carefully set field with an array of late cuts and lusty drives, all of them typical of the class Thorpe has continually shown since he returned to international cricket last summer following a winter off.

An hour later, it was Hussain's turn to raise his bat, having been at the crease for more than two and a half hours. Six of the 146 balls he faced were despatched for four though few were timed with the same perfection as his England colleague.

The pair put on 132 but just four overs from the end, Thorpe succumbed to a trap that had been set earlier by Pakistan skipper Waqar Younis, who sent two fielders down to long leg to snatch a mistimed hook.

It was exactly that shot that saw Thorpe's innings thwarted just as it was beginning to look like a potential match-winner. With 80 on the board, he was caught by Abdul Razzaq off Waqar's bowling after staying with Hussain for a little over three hours.

The Surrey batsman looked displeased as he wandered off the field in the fading light but he knew he had missed out on his first chance of the summer to post a painless century.

He was replaced by nightwatchman Ryan Sidebottom, making his England debut in a high pressure situation with the score 246 for four. After a winter holding up the England A tail in the West Indies, he responded with a composure that surprised many watching the Yorkshireman for the first time.

By the close he and Hussain had added eight runs to the England total taking it to 254 for four. Two of the wickets went to swing bowler Azhar Mahmood who finished with 18-10-29-2 but the second day belonged to England who fared well in the bowler friendly conditions.

Earlier their innings had got off to a promising start with a resilient opening stand of 60 between Michael Atherton and Marcus Trescothick.

After a successful winter forging strong opening partnerships, Trescothick and Atherton got together for the first time this season when Waqar Younis won the toss and decided to give his pace attack, including Shoaib Akhtar, the best of the overcast conditions over London.

Shoaib last played Test cricket in March 2000 and, arriving in the UK a week later than the rest of the Pakistan team due to illness, his fitness levels were said to be well short of the required standard.

But on the Lord's track, which on a damp May morning was never likely to favour the spinners, a half-fit seamer was deemed a better option than the fully fit Saqlain Mushtaq.

The 'Rawalpindi Express' came on to bowl in the tenth over of the morning, but by then England's openers had seen off the worst of the new ball from Waqar and Wasim Akram and had moved the total to 39 without loss.

Shoaib delivered his first ball at 87 mph but it was not enough to create a sensation and after three overs he was taken off, having conceded six runs.

Despite being the most in-form batsman in the country with three B&H centuries and one CricInfo Championship ton in the bag already this season, the Somerset left-hander started tentatively, playing and missing to Waqar.

He gradually gained confidence and reached 36, having struck three boundaries before being surprised by a slower ball in Abdul Razzaq's third over, being caught at gully by Azhar.

Coming on to bowl immediately after lunch, Azhar swung the ball both ways to pick up the wickets of firstly Michael Vaughan and then Atherton in the space of 18 balls.

Vaughan walked when he was well caught down the leg side by wicket-keeper Rashid Latif trying to glance Azhar down to fine leg. He had made a rapid 32 from 55 balls, and sent a leg break from spinner Younis Khan hurtling over the mid-wicket boundary into the Tavern Stand crowd.

Three overs later, Azhar seized the wicket Pakistan had been hankering after since play commenced this morning and having faced 122 balls, Atherton was bowled by a ball that swung into the leg stump for 42.