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August 18, 2006
While Pakistan's cricket throughout the series has given plenty of material for those who talk about their mercurial nature, Yousuf has consistently gorged himself on the England attack. His latest century seemed almost inevitable and was as elegant and confident as the 202 at Lord's and 192 at Headingley. And, unless the rest of the side suffer a collective implosion that would do even Pakistan proud - or the weather closes in for three days - this one will be in victory.
Yousuf reached his century off 174 balls when he took Paul Collingwood for three fours in an over, having already set a new record for a Pakistan batsman in a series against England. It confirmed his standing as the in-form player of world cricket and the only semblance of a problem he encountered was against Monty Panesar, but even that wasn't as pronounced as earlier matches.
However, Yousuf's credentials were known before this series, although he has clearly performed at the top of his game, so the aspect that will have pleased Bob Woolmer about Pakistan's batting is the identity of the two men who provided supporting roles. Usually it has been a combination of Yousuf with either Inzamam-ul-Haq or Younis Khan, but here it was two different faces.
Imran Farhat started Pakistan's day in fine style, peppering the cover boundary with a series of rasping drives as the England bowlers again strayed too wide. The swing of the first day wasn't evident and Farhat had the confidence to hit through the line. His aggressive intent was confirmed when he charged down the track to Panesar's first ball and launched him many rows back over long on.
He was within nine of his third Test century when he pushed out at Matthew Hoggard and Marcus Trescothick held on a first slip - but how England would have been wishing his hands had been as safe when Yousuf edged one the previous evening.
Hafeez, who had been forced to retire hurt early in the innings with a knee tendon problem, resumed his innings and, although he couldn't sprint between the wickets, was quickly into his stride with three fours in a row off Hoggard. Whenever England were threatening to create some pressure - and those moments were few and far between - the bowlers would lose their line and Pakistan cashed in.
The main alarms Yousuf and Hafeez had in bringing up their century stand was with the running and they kept flirting with danger, although England's throws from the infield were as wayward as their bowling. Harmison bowled shorter and wider the more overs he sent down - cumulating in an embarrassing delivery with the second new ball that speared down the leg-side for five wides. For once, Panesar didn't offer Andrew Strauss the control he wanted and that must be credited to the aggressive intent of the batsmen. He did, though, have a couple of close shouts for lbw denied.
The third-wicket stand had reached 177 - after Hafeez survived a chance to Panesar at long-leg on 79 - and Strauss and gone through all his options to try and speed towards the second new ball. However, it was Hoggard - the man to suffer all England's dropped chances - who made the breakthrough as he loosened up with the older ball. Hafeez chipped a catch to midwicket five short of a ton that would have completed a fine return to the Test side.
That was almost the final action of the day as poor light drove the players off the field for the second time, but such has been Yousuf's form that he could have scored runs in the dark. England have been handed brief respite, but will need plenty more help from the weather to save this match, against a Pakistan side that has dazzled for two days.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of CricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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