November 15, 2000

Saqlain magic leaves England spellbound

LAHORE: England's retreat from a position of absolute dominance, allowed Pakistan to even the honours by close of play on the first day of the Test series in Lahore.

It was the batting of Marcus Trescothick and Michael Atherton that enabled England to take control and sustain it for most of the day's play until three quick wickets in the final session of the day pulled Pakistan back in the game.

In a most damaging spell of 63 balls, which brought him four wickets for just fourteen runs, Saqlain Mushtaq changed the course of the England innings.

Despite having a most potent and varied bowling attack at their disposal, Pakistan made no impression, for most of the day, on either one of England's opening batsmen whose stand of 134 was as good as England would have wished for.

For either side it was a good toss to win as batting first on the slow, grassless pitch would have been the choice of both captains.

With the ball not coming on to the bat, it was no surprise that Pakistan introduced spin as early as the eleventh over and by the sixteenth, the spinners were operating from both ends.

Intent on building a solid foundation, Trescothick and Atherton took the total, by lunch, to 76 with forty-four of those runs credited to Trescothick. His fifty came straight after the break when he hit the leg spinner Mushtaq Ahmed to the mid-wicket boundary.

Earlier he hooked pace bowler Abdur Razzaq twice in one over for four. Atherton then drove a full toss from Saqlain, past the bowler for four and followed it with a delicate late-cut for two to bring up the hundred.

Two appeals for leg before wicket were turned down by each umpire (Trescothick was on 64 and Atherton on 50) and rightly so as the replays confirmed.

On 61, Atherton, in his 103rd. Test became the sixth Englishman to reach 7,000 Test runs, following such great batsmen as Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey, Geoff Boycott, David Gower and Graham Gooch.

After Trescothick finally went for 71, top edging from a sweep shot off Saqlain, England were still progressing well on 169 for one. But that is when the play began to turn Pakistan's way.

The wily off-spinner Saqlain, having got the breakthrough that his side urgently needed, removed Atherton for 73, from 190 balls. He also went as he top-edged a sweep.

Four runs later, Alec Stewart was trapped leg before wicket by his Surrey team-mate, and then to complete his brilliant spell, Saqlain had Nasser Hussain caught at cover as he miscued an intended straight drive.

England were 183 for four with the last three wickets going within 14 runs, indeed the four that fell, went in a space of 49 runs.

By stumps, England had slowly reached 195 for four and fortunately Graham Thorpe was still there on 22, having been dropped on two in the slips by Qaiser Abbas, making his Test debut.

England could only add 47 in the last ninety minutes but will be looking to Thorpe and Graham Hick for runs tomorrow having suffered a setback after such an excellent start today.