England v Pakistan, 4th Test, The Oval, 2nd day August 18, 2006

Hafeez seizes his chance

Mohammad Hafeez: a sturdy innings at the top of Pakistan's order © Getty Images
Mohammad Hafeez has had to learn to be patient, which is no bad thing when you aspire to be an international opener. Almost three years have passed since he last played a Test for Pakistan, against Bangladesh at Multan in October 2003. Since then he has been steadfastly overlooked while Bob Woolmer experimented with 12 different opening partnerships, including four in consecutive matches this series.

Now, however, after marking his comeback with an invaluable 95, Hafeez hopes he is finally back for good. "It was a good knock," he said modestly. "I was under pressure because three years is a long time, and it's not an easy time to wait. But now, after this innings, I feel much happier."

Hafeez, who is used to English conditions after two seasons of Yorkshire League cricket in 2002 and 2005, wasn't even considered for the early part of the tour. Instead was sent off to Australia with the A team, where he grasped his opportunity with a brilliant 180. As Pakistan's series prospects crumbled along with their opening partnerships, he was given the SOS.

"Getting some confidence for the one-dayers was the game-plan," he explained, as Pakistan's big guns start to gather ahead of the five-match series later this month. "We are looking forward to beating England even though we've lost the series." With Imran Farhat also registering a classy 91, and the much-missed strike force of Mohammad Asif, Shoaib Akhtar and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan working their way into form, few doubt that England will be in a contest for the rest of the tour.

"I know the opening area is the problem," admitted Hafeez, having watched the struggles from afar this series. "It's not about insecurity, it's the pressure," he added. "Whenever you come back and get a chance, you have to perform. Unfortunately [our openers] might do well in one or two matches, but then struggle. I'll be doing my level best to deliver this form for the rest of my career."

It helped Hafeez no end to have a man of Mohammad Yousuf's stature to help him through his knock. "Yousuf definitely encouraged me," he said. "I was under pressure but he was talking to me all the time, giving me tips on how to play and how to manage the pressure. It was really nice to bat with him."

Yousuf, of course, rolled on to his third hundred of a series in which he has now passed 600 runs, a phenomenal tally. Hafeez was less fortunate, as he clipped the first ball of Matthew Hoggard's new spell straight to Andrew Strauss at midwicket. "A century in a comeback game would be a very happy moment for me," he shrugged, "but it's just luck."

He showed no ill-effects of the knee injury that caused his retirement early on the first day's play. "I was running and I felt pain. It felt like a muscle pull of the hamstring," he explained. "It was still a pain today, but it'll recover, thanks to the physio."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo