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July 17, 2006
It comes to something when the loudest chants of Zindabad follow the relief of three unsuccessful appeals in a Monty Panesar over. The first Test between England and Pakistan was buried by the defensive approach of both teams, presumably choosing to curb their enthusiasm until the cavalries arrive later in the series.
Andrew Flintoff's gallop to fitness is expected to end at Old Trafford where he will rejoin Inzamam-ul Haq for the heaviest captaincy double act in international cricket. Pakistan's own stallion, Shoaib Akhtar, is running a longer race, with the best guess placing him a likely runner in the fourth Test. Shoaib's eagerness, Pakistan's desperation, and a general air of tedium might combine to make an earlier return irresistible--and, boy, do Pakistan need him.
Pakistan will leave Lord's with greater apprehension than England, who bossed the match once Inzi's boys had bummed a handful of catches in the first innings. England were strongly placed at the end of the second day but were thwarted by two factors. First was self inflicted: their negativity. More urgency on the fourth evening would have given Andrew Strauss's team time to winkle out the opposition. An approach doubly questionable once Monty's spin and bounce began to wobble Pakistan. It is hard to fathom exactly what England dreaded as they batted on this morning? But this has been a match marked by fear of defeat rather than desire to win.
Nasser Hussain commented that Inzamam and Mohammad Yousuf reminded him of players from a bygone era. He might have said the same about the whole encounter. Romantics--people like me--wondered how Pakistan might approach today? Would they attempt something incredible? An assault from Shahid Afridi was high on every romantic's wish list. Any such dreams evaporated though once Messrs Butt and Farhat advanced their record of failure.
Pakistan resorted to pragmatism that was unheard of yesteryear but is a brand value now - although they almost did get themselves into a mess by batting without any sense of purpose. Holding out for a draw on the final day is a traditional Pakistani recipe for jaw-dropping defeat but Bob Woolmer has expunged this from the players' menu as effectively as curry. Pakistan--to many people's eternal surprise--are composed in defence and expert in seeing out time. The pitch helped here, as did England's unnecessary lack of ambition.
Although Pakistan may have found a method of coping without hope of support from their opening batsmen they will need a transformation from their bowlers and fielders if they are to escape another rearguard at Old Trafford. The pace attack optimistically employed at Lord's was uninspired and unthreatening. Iftikhar Rao, Mohammad Asif's replacement, is a notch below not a notch above the current opening bowlers. Pakistan's bowling options are few. England must be relieved to come across a team more stricken with injury than they. This is a worrying scenario for Pakistani fans, who to take it for granted that their opening bowlers carry real threat and often aggression.
Harmison and Hoggard showed in bursts that they could cause batsmen serious problems on a more helpful track. On this performance, the same judgement does not apply to Umar Gul and Mohammad Sami. The second factor that thwarted England, however, was beyond their control. Mohammad Yousuf played magnificently in both innings. His double-hundred was one of the best innings ever by a Pakistani in Tests, a complete contrast to Mohsin Khan's dashing, excitable, sometimes reckless, double-hundred twenty-four years earlier on this same ground. Yousuf was composed, almost flawless, and wonderfully graceful. Beneath MoYo's short-sleeve jumper and short-tangled beard it was a struggle to find YoYo, a gifter of his wicket and betrayer of his graceful talent.
Yousuf's critics label him a flat-track bully. While the wicket was placid here, the situation was one of high pressure, pressure enough to dismiss forever any barbs about him being an easy rider. Pressure enough, too, to conclude that only a player of immense inner calm could play an innings of such exquisite serenity. The question that faces Pakistan as they leave Lord's is whether or not they can keep England out until their fire-breathing fast bowler snorts and stamps his arrival. With MoYo now a Mojo, anything is possible.
Kamran Abbasi is the editor of Journal of the Royal Society of MedicineFeeds: Kamran Abbasi
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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