Shoaib and Asif light up a gloomy Lord's
Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif lit up a gloomy day at Lord's with two outstanding spells of pace bowling to set up Pakistan for a seven-wicket win. Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf and latterly Inzamam-ul-Haq made light of late afternoon conditions that grew darker by the moment to ease Pakistan across the line with 20 balls to spare.
If the weathermen were to have been believed there was very little chance of a full match being played, so dire was the forecast but in England such things have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Although the heady days of summer seemed a lifetime ago the rain that did arrive only reduced the contest to 40 overs-a-side. The light during Pakistan's chase would not have been fit for a Test - or even first-class match - but one-day cricket is about getting results for the crowd.
It would have been harsh on Pakistan if the weather had denied them for a second time - after they'd been on top at Cardiff - as they again showed how dangerous they can be as a one-day side. Shoaib and Asif combined to take figures of 6 for 38 from their 16 overs and blew the England top order away with pace and swing. Shoaib returned to mop up the tail and earn himself a four-wicket haul. The key for Pakistan is how to keep him fit through the Champions Trophy and World Cup.
Pakistan's target required them to go at just over four-an-over, and meant they could negotiate an impressive new-ball spell from Jon Lewis, who took this chance to show the England selectors that he is worth an extended run in the team. He removed Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik with classical seam bowling, nagging away on off stump, and could have had a third if it hadn't been for a tight no-ball call by Billy Doctrove when Younis edged to Chris Read on 15.
Lewis bowled his eight overs off the reel, but the problem for Andrew Strauss was that the pressure wasn't maintained at the other end. Darren Gough bowled too short while Stuart Broad, who'd never sent down a ball at Lord's, struggled to adjust to the slope which has affected many senior bowlers too.
Younis and Yousuf knew that once they negotiated the frontline seamers there would be easier pickings against the supporting cast. The pair milked Paul Collingwood and launched into plenty of short offerings from Rikki Clarke. Desperate to keep seam operating, Strauss tried Ian Bell but by now the batsmen were comfortable.
Younis reached his fifty off 78 balls but gave the innings away when he clipped Clarke to Kevin Pietersen at deep square-leg. However, the job was almost complete and it was left to Yousuf and Inzamam to add the finishing touches with some thumping strokeplay confirming, without doubt, where the balance of power lies.
What England would give for such consummate one-day batting. Admittedly conditions were very bowler-friendly first-up, and Pakistan's attack is a handful in the sunshine, but the top order found Shoaib and Asif almost unplayable. Even during their 5-0 hammering against Sri Lanka, England's batting wasn't the major concern (the bowlers couldn't even defend 300-plus) but in this series the main men have yet to even look like firing.
Shoaib started the procession when Strauss fell to the last delivery of the first over, before rain forced the players off for nearly an hour. On resumption life got tougher. Marcus Trescothick tried coming down the pitch, to the displeasure of Asif, who gave him a send-off when he edged to second slip. Ian Bell was forced back by a series of rapid bouncers from Shoaib, then caught prodding at deliveries pitched up until he edged to first slip.
Pietersen tried to hit his way out of the mini-slump he is suffering, but an ungainly pull against his nemesis, Asif, was well caught by Rana Naved running in from third man. Again, Asif - who'd claimed Pietersen for the fourth time in five innings - couldn't resist a chirp at his victim. Paul Collingwood and Jamie Dalrymple tried to rebuild, but each partnership was nipped in the bud as Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq chipped in with the ball.
The major boost to England's faltering progress came from Clarke and Read who added 53 off 57 balls. They mixed sharp running with some audacious shots; Clarke swept Naved to fine leg while Read hooked Shoaib for six. Clarke reached a career-best ODI score before he was cleaned up by Shoaib and England couldn't even bat out the reduced number of overs. Their miserable one-day run continues and it will take a monumental effort to turn this series around against a Pakistan team who are starting to hit their straps.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo