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July 17, 2006
It's a sign that we live in turbulent times when an overnight lead of 341 is no longer considered sufficient to ensure a side against defeat, but Test cricket has changed beyond all recognition in the last five to ten years. At least, that was the assumption made by the England team management. As it turned out, the final day at Lord's was an echo of a distant past. Pakistan neither threatened to pursue an outlandish total, nor did England ever look capable of taking ten wickets in 80 overs.
"It is disappointing not to be able to force a result," admitted England's stand-in captain, Andrew Strauss. His second-innings century ensured that he, at least, would look back on his brief tenure with some pride, though one sensed his heart was never really in the pursuit after dallying for eight overs in the morning session. "We looked good for a while, but the wicket didn't break up as much as we'd have liked. When they do, you back yourself to win, when they don't it's always hard work."
There will doubtless be inquests into the timing of England's declaration, but in a match that pitted two B-strength bowling attacks against two decent batting line-ups, the draw was always likely to suit both teams very nicely, especially with reinforcements waiting in the wings. England will call upon Andrew Flintoff on his home ground at Old Trafford next week, and as Pakistan's coach, Bob Woolmer, conceded: "he'll be fresh and firing."
Woolmer meanwhile expects Pakistan's formidable middle-order to be further boosted by the return of Younis Khan, and with Shoaib Akhtar arriving in the country at 12.30am tomorrow, there remains the distant prospect of his availability at a later stage of the series. Everything, though, depends on how his damaged left ankle stands up to further scrutiny. "He's already been running and shadow-bowling with no pain, and cardiovasular-wise he's as fit as ever.," Woolmer elaborated. "It's up to him to tell us if he's in pain, because that will determine if he's fit or not."
"We expect to have 16 players to pick from at Old Trafford," added Woolmer, whose squad has been reinforced by the arrival of Taufeeq Umar and Rao Iftikhar, and so whose tacit implication was of an opportunity lost for England. After losing half a strike-force on the eve of the match, dropping five catches on the first day, and conceding a first-innings total of 528, he was delighted to emerge with honours even. "We didn't crumble in the face of large total, we continued the fighting spirit we've shown in the last 18 months, and we are still in the series with a chance of winning."
"If you're going to bowl a side out on the last day, you need two new balls at some stage," Woolmer said dryly of England's delayed declaration. "The pitch was offering exaggerated bounce, a lot of movement, and the ball spun and bounced. The opportunity was there for England to beat us, and we did well to prevent it."
Strauss, naturally, saw the situation slightly differently. "Yes, if we'd declared overnight we would have had the new ball, but for the Pakistan lower-order, it isn't part of their natural game-plan to sit tight and defend it out. We wanted to make them play a game that wasn't natural to them, and so we needed one of those days when everything went our way. Had they been exposed earlier, you never know what would have happened."
"We felt it was more important to [have enough runs to] keep positive field placings in play," added Strauss. "The nature of the wickets have changed here in the last few years, so that makes previous records slightly irrelevant. You have to prise batsmen out here these days, but as captain you make the decision and you live and die by it to a certain extent."
Interestingly, both Strauss and Pakistan's coach, Bob Woolmer, described the Lord's strip as an "excellent" Test match wicket, which probably proved the old theory that once a batsman, always a batsman. "In the end the pitch was the winner," conceded Woolmer, not entirely incongruously, although it was possible to detect in Strauss a slight note of regret that his bowlers hadn't quite raised their game as he had hoped.
"Hopefully they have got quite a lot of rhythm out of this Test match," he added, the sort of sentiments that might have made the late lamented Fred Trueman splutter with indignation. Imagine using a Lord's Test as middle practice! "They did their fair share of bowling in hot conditions, and hopefully they'll be better for that come the second Test. Certainly Liam Plunkett improved as the game went on, and Hoggy and Harmy bowled good spells, but as captain you're always looking for consistency."
Inzamam-ul-Haq would agree with that sentiment, alright. His effortless unbeaten half-century was his ninth in consecutive innings against England, and Woolmer was succinct in his praise of a man who chugs along at his own tempo with hardly a care in the world. "He played brilliantly today. He was never in any trouble at all." And neither, by implication, was his team.
As West Indies play their 500th Test, here's an interactive journey through their Test history