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August 17, 2006
Asif's last Test match was in April against Sri Lanka, at Kandy, and he ended with figures of 11 for 71. Since then he's been sorely missed by a team also shorn of Shoaib Akhtar and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan but spent the early part of this summer showing his potential with Leicestershire. It was a gamble by the Pakistan management to select him for this match - he only arrived back in England three days ago - but that makes his figures of 4 for 56 in 19 overs even more commendable.
The pre-lunch action was limited to just eight overs as heavy showers scudded across the ground, but Asif had already slotted into the ideal line and length for the muggy conditions, after Inzamam-ul-Haq's brave call to bowl first. The first breakthrough went to Gul, as an out-of-sorts Marcus Trescothick slashed to gully, but it was Asif that opened up the match for Pakistan.
His wickets came from perfect swing and seam bowling at a lively pace. Andrew Strauss, after again producing some fluent shots, was pushed back before reaching out for a pitched-up delivery. However, Asif outdid himself with the next ball as he produced a full, swinging beauty that kissed the edge of Kevin Pietersen's bat as it moved late in the air. A little under 12 months ago Pietersen secured the Ashes with 158 at this ground; his stay couldn't have been any shorter this time around.
England's man for a crisis in recent times has been Paul Collingwood, but Asif soon added him to the wicket column with a delivery that nipped back and would have taken middle. Asif was making the ball move at will, but also knew how to utilise the conditions to his advantage and made clever use of the short ball.
For the first time in the series England's batting had its back to the wall and Inzamam took the chance to give Danish Kaneria a bowl. As if to epitomise the turnaround he struck with his fourth ball after having to wait an eternity in the previous three Tests. Ian Bell propped forward and got an inside-edge onto his pad and out to silly point as England stumbled to 91 for 5.
Chris Read played two fine innings at Headingley but the situations were not quite as tricky as the one facing him this time. His task became no easier when he lost Alastair Cook, who had played with a calm assurance as all around him fell, when he was trapped by a yorker from Shahid Nazir. Billy Doctrove eventually raised his finger as he started to wander away from the stumps.
After Asif's work against the top-order it was Gul - deservedly so - who wrapped up the tail in a manner that revived memories of Pakistan's last visit to The Oval, in 1996, when Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis produced a fine display of reverse swing. Gul has been the stand-out performer in Pakistan's struggling attack and here benefited from having a reliable partner at the other end. He ended the innings in two balls by bowling Read - who'd faced just five balls out of 31 - then yorking Monty Panesar first ball.
England's bowlers didn't heed the lessons of watching the Pakistanis and fed Hafeez and Imran Farhat - the fourth opening combination of the series - a series of loose deliveries. Still, though, Pakistan's opening jinx struck when Hafeez was forced to retire hurt with a leg injury as the pair were on the verge of a rare fifty stand.
Mahmood handed England a fillip before the close when Younis Khan was caught down the leg-side but Farhat moved to an aggressive fifty off 63 balls. However, Mohammad Yousuf was spilled twice when Read and Trescothick couldn't decide between them who should take an edge off Hoggard, on 5, then Cook missed a low effort in the gully four runs later from the same bowler. For a day, at least, it was hard to believe which team holds the 2-0 advantage.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of CricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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