England v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Headingley, 1st day August 4, 2006

Down on luck, down on spirit

Darrell Hair rightly turned down an appeal for Andrew Strauss's wicket, but his other decisions worked in the favour of England © Getty Images

Oh for the good old days of non-neutral umpires between England and Pakistan. At least then you could - and regularly did - confidently accuse home umpires of bias. Pakistan have no such comfort to fall back after a day that initially promised much, yet eventually turned into one which threatens to, effectively, end the series.

Even before the day began, Darrell Hair was unlikely to be found on any Pakistan player's Eid card lists. His performances during Pakistan's winter series at home against England enraged Pakistani players and officials alike, many of whom privately expressed serious concern over his attitude and performances. After today's show, forget Eid bans; Hair will be lucky to escape calls for a fatwa, were fatwas still a fashionable thing in Pakistan.

For cataloguing purposes, he turned down an outside edge, then a clear inside edge and then a leg-before appeal whose only fault might have been that it was hitting middle. And that it was delivered by Danish Kaneria, who extracts as much out of Hair as he does out of Old Trafford. If it is just incompetence, then it sure as hell has a funny way of regularly seeking out and screwing Pakistan.

The last two decisions went in favour of Kevin Pietersen, whose typically daring hundred fairly yanked any initiative away from Pakistan. He might have considered batting with a golf club were he to have foreseen the luck he was to enjoy today; he was caught behind off a no-ball (though whether Hair would have given it is a different matter entirely) and then dropped by Imran Farhat....no wait...Salman Butt...no wait...err. Mercifully, Pietersen then walked off himself, possibly as a result of an injury to his funny bone, obtained while laughing at Butt's attempt to catch him.

For balance, Billy Doctrove at the other end also missed an inside edge that many in his native Caribbean probably heard. He is also an unlikely recipient of Eid greetings (Inzamam proffered a greeting that lip readers revealed didn't say 'Eid Mubarak'); Pakistani fans will not forget the outside edge off Jimmy Adams that Doctrove denied Wasim Akram in Antigua in 2000, allowing Adams to lead his side to a thrilling one-wicket win.

Their decisions have already cost Pakistan but the irony in all of this, of course, is that apart from an hour in the morning and a spell with the second new ball, the bowling was middling at best. Just before Umar Gul's spell with the second new ball as Pakistani fans witnessed Butt and Taufeeq Umar's attempt at off-spin, they must have wondered whether even a half-fit Mohammad Asif and Shoaib Akhtar might have been worth a punt.

Kevin Pietersen is caught behind...off a no-ball, on a day when lady luck failed to smile on Pakistan © Getty Images

Mohammad Sami is likely to be on England's Christmas card list this year, so generous a soul he has been this series. He was off-colour enough to be black and white here and, in any case, people have swiftly forgotten what he can be like in colour; his pace was down, any movement was invisible, no line or length was settled on and he leaked runs at over five-per-over. Kaneria did precisely what spinners traditionally do on this ground, which isn't much. Again, he didn't bowl poorly though he rarely looked like taking a wicket. That tune has accompanied him through the summer.

It left Umar Gul and Shahid Nazir as the most penetrative bowlers for Pakistan, and the inclusion of the latter says more about Pakistan's bowling troubles on this tour than any figures will ever do. As a selection, Nazir was Pakistan's take on England's infamous horses-for-courses policy of the 1980s and 90s, a hope more than anything that a freakish, Neil Mallender circa 1992-type performance might emerge. He started promisingly enough, swinging and seaming the ball earnestly in the morning. In each subsequent spell though, he flagged visibly. He was undercooked and clearly feeling the strain of a first Test in seven years.

Gul bounded in with the enthusiasm that has been so refreshingly at odds with the rest of the attack through the series and his two late afternoon wickets - classic Headingley victims both - at least clawed some momentum back Pakistan's way. For his endearingly bambi-ish efforts alone, his more erratic moments can be forgiven. It hasn't much saved Pakistan unfortunately. They are down now and even swift wickets mightn't repair the damage. Furthermore, Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison on a pitch that yields to the new ball, under that cloud cover, against another new opening pair and a batting line-up low on confidence, might put them out sooner rather than later.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo