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July 17, 2006
Pakistan never showed any interest in the target of 380, and this approach reduced England's chances of taking ten wickets. Richie Benuad was one who used to talk about 'closures' instead of 'declarations' and Strauss's decision to call his batsmen in after half-an-hour of the final morning was definitely the former. There will have been memories of Nagpur floating around the England dressing-room, when India gave them a brief scare after being set 368 in day. In reality, though, India ended 100 runs short and Pakistan would have done well to get much closer if they'd been set the overnight target of 342.
There was clearly a sense of two-fold fear in the England camp. The first was that Shahid Afridi could produce one of his big-hitting masterclasses and the second that, if one member of England's four-man attack wilted, they would be left short of options. Throughout the build-up, and even during the match, Strauss has made it clear that he is only keeping the captaincy seat warm for Andrew Flintoff. His declaration smacked of wanting to ensure no nasty surprises, such as a 1-0 deficit, for Flintoff's return.
However, a bit of faith can go a long way. There were enough signs during the last couple of days' play that the pitch would do enough to keep the bowlers interested. The key with giving themselves only 80 overs was that England removed the option of a final crack with the second new ball; one of their prime wicket-taking opportunities. They wasted the first one, despite Matthew Hoggard's first-ball dismissal of Salman Butt, as he and Steve Harmison struggled with their lines.
With Hoggard taking two in his first spell, Panesar's introduction was delayed until the second over after lunch. On a dry and wearing fifth-day pitch he was always going to be an important weapon, but had to be given enough time to take wickets. His first ball got the close fielders jumping as it spun past Faisal Iqbal's outside edge. Iqbal, though, after overcoming a nervous start settled down, while Mohammad Yousuf, arriving in the middle with his team tottering on 33 for 2, was quickly into his stride and the pair added 83 in 23 overs. It was an impressively measured stand, particularly from the under-pressure Iqbal who out-performed his inexperienced colleagues in the top three, and it took the sting out of England.
The problem for England was that they couldn't strike in clusters and their pacemen were ineffective for large periods. Harmison only cranked himself up once, in an impressive post-lunch burst, and tested Yousuf and Iqbal with a barrage of short-pitched bowling. A couple of edges landed short of the slips and a well-directed bouncer nearly brought the breakthrough. Yousuf ducked, leaving his bat above his head, and the ball looped backward of square out of anyone's reach.
When Panesar finally shifted Yousuf, Inzamam eased past another half-century to make it nine innings on the bounce against England with at least a fifty. The England bowlers certainly can't say they haven't had enough time to work out how to dismiss the pair, but are still largely clueless against two of the world's finest batsmen. Strauss went through all his options and Kevin Pietersen's offspin again proved more worthy than just the occasional over. Even Paul Collingwood tried some spin, which he has been developing in the nets, but by then the match had ended as a contest.
As both captains shook hands they appeared equally content, but when reflection takes place Inzamam will edge the satisfaction stakes. After conceding 528 a visiting team is quite happy to escape unscathed, especially given such a long injury list. However, following a 5-0 thrashing in the one-day series to Sri Lanka the match has shown Strauss to be a capable, if cautious, captain. The feeling is, though, that this contest really starts next week in Manchester.
England - overnight 258 for 7
Liam Plunkett c Akmal b Razzaq 28 (296 for 8)
Thick edge to a big flash
Salman Butt lbw b Hoggard 0 (0 for 1)
Inswinger, went across his stumps, would have probably just clipped leg
Imran Farhat c Collingwood b Hoggard 18 (33 for 2)
Back-foot push, comfortably held at third slip
Mohammad Yousuf lbw b Panesar 48 (116 for 3)
Pitched on leg, straightened, no shot offered and taking middle
Faisal Iqbal c Cook b Panesar 48 (141 for 4)
Thick outside edge to gully
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of CricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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