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England v Pakistan, 1st Test, Lord's, 3rd day

Hot shots, cool heads

Osman Samiuddin

July 15, 2006

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Mohammad Yousuf: transforming himself into Pakistan's go-to man © Getty Images
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Contests with England may not hold the same intensity as they once did, and perhaps not the same significance, especially for Pakistan's younger players. In this playing XI for example, only two men were even in their teens when Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana had their little disagreement, an incident you would expect to leave an impact on impressionable young minds.

So it comes as no surprise that the two men who came to Pakistan's rescue today - Mohammad Yousuf and Inzamam-ul-Haq - are the two who were old enough to properly remember the acrimony of Faisalabad (13 and 17 years old then) and are the two men who raise their game each time they step onto the field against England.

Inzamam, of course, made his Test debut on the 1992 tour to England, hardly an amicable encounter, and it was memorable only for him walking out at Lord's, sans helmet in tribute to his hero Viv Richards, only to be bounced twice in two balls by Devon Malcolm. He ducked the first and top-edged the second back to Malcolm and it was that kind of series for him. Since then, he has pillaged England remorselessly (he averages over 60 against them) and his fifty was his eighth in successive innings against them now, a run stretching from the Old Trafford Test in 2001.

Obviously, Inzamam did it as Inzamam always does it; constructed from little pushed drives, gentle clips through midwicket, upright backfoot forces through cover and a couple of the powerful slashes that he generally employs. And his mood was also the usual, and thus vital; untroubled, immeasurably calm and not given at any stage to any emotion. It was, at a panic-stricken 68 for 4, facing 528, precisely what was needed. For all the snipes at the lack of hot blood in his leadership, it is useful to remember that when Pakistan panic and falter - as they still often do - that very lack of emotion becomes their crutch. It is something even Imran Khan, once scathing, has realised and he at least was in no doubt as to Inzamam's worth as captain, saying to a reporter that Pakistan's rise to No.2 in the world was the result only of Inzamam's leadership.

Yousuf's love for England is no less and this was his fourth century in eight Tests against them. Out of all it was possibly the timeliest, and first in England. In mood and context, it was not entirely dissimilar to his wondrous century against Australia at Melbourne in December 2004. As then, he unveiled a repertoire of strokes you can only call sexy. Fluid drives, wristy flicks, elegant waltzes down the pitch, cuts balanced on top of his toes; he could be a dancer so graceful is he with bat in hand, yet take it off him and his grace of movement withers.



Inzamam-ul-Haq: cool, calm, effective © Getty Images
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But as his beard has grown, so too has his sense of responsibility. Again, he scored when it mattered for Pakistan and as rarely as that sentence was associated with his early career, it is becoming almost the rule now. Since Melbourne - where he was captain for the Test - Yousuf's hundreds have generally been important ones and as he skipped towards his second double century against England in successive matches, he should do so with the relief that he has extricated his side from a position of some despair.

And it is, lest anyone forget, something Pakistan keep doing with scary frequency. They are slow starters generally; against India in India, West Indies in West Indies and Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka the first two days of the series suggested they would be lucky to escape a whitewash. Yet they drew two and won one of those series. Even against England at Multan last November, they were behind for nearly four of the five days and we know what happened from there on.

There remains an inescapable feeling that the match has lacked too many key players from either side to make viewing as entertaining as it should be. With two days left, Shahid Afridi partnering Yousuf at the crease and Danish Kaneria on a dry pitch waiting, if Pakistan can convert the sliver of hope they are clutching onto now into something more substantial, that feeling may disappear.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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Osman Samiuddin Osman spent the first half of his life pretending he discovered reverse swing with a tennis ball half-covered with electrical tape. The second half of his life was spent trying, and failing, to find spiritual fulfillment in the world of Pakistani advertising and marketing. The third half of his life will be devoted to convincing people that he did discover reverse swing. And occasionally writing about cricket. And learning mathematics.
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