May 18, 2001

England's dominate with rock-like defence

After the first day was lost for rain, the 1st npower Test started at Lords with Pakistan opting to field. Probably influenced by the weather and the much-touted greenish wicket, Pakistan played the gamble of picking up a half-fit Shoaib Akhtar while leaving a spinner at the altar.

The day ended with England at 254 for 4. England batted wisely with planning and determination and thwarted Pakistan's otherwise much heralded pace attack. Gladiators like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar failed to create an impact on the rock like England defence. Dents in the wall were initially made by the second string pacers, Abdur Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood and at the close Waqar Younis clinched the prized wicket of Graham Thorpe.

England has piled up an impressive 254 with 6 wickets in hand and almost eliminated any chance of defeat, more so, as only 3 days are left. Pakistan bowlers shall have to pull something out of the bag to prevent England adding many more runs.

To Pakistan's dismay, the pitch and the weather did not behave as expected, the ball neither moved much in the air nor off the pitch making Wasim, Waqar and Shoaib almost ineffective. They did bowl to a good line but lacked penetration and were unable to get any early breakthroughs.

A no-risk policy yielded the rewards for England and continued stealing runs at a slow but steady pace. First 50 of the innings came in 15.3 overs with Marcus Trescothick leading with 32 runs. Pakistan's field placing lacked imagination and the absence of a third man at the start cost the side 4-5 boundaries.

Abdur Razzaq got the 1st break when he sent Trescothick back, caught at gulley when England were nicely placed at 60. To break the monotony of an all-pace attack or for possible entertainment, Waqar handed the ball to a non-regular spinner Younis Khan. Entertaining it was! He was punished for a mighty six by Vaughan, followed by a flurry of brilliant strokes hit to delight the crowd and that did for Khan. Vaughan's exciting innings of 32 was cut short by Azhar Mahmood who had him caught brilliantly by new yet old `keeper Rashid Latif. England were 105 for 2 and Pakistani spirits rose.

Azhar struck again when he clinched the prized wicket of Atherton on a magnificent delivery that shattered his stumps. The former captain, playing the sheet anchor for England, defied Pakistan's pace attack with immense courage during his valiant 42.

Graham Thorpe and skipper Nasser Hussain did succeed in stemming any possible rot but fell into such a deep defensive groove that at one stage Nasser took 36 balls to score a run. With only 54 runs scored in a span of two hours between lunch and tea the session was dominated by Pakistan. Perhaps the loss of the 1st day's play was at the back of their minds and they looked to be playing for a draw.

Shoaib Akhtar bowled short spells of 2-3 overs that indicated he had not fully retrieved physical fitness. He bowled mostly outside off stump and lacked hostility. In his spell immediately after tea there were signs of agony on his face. After bowling only two overs, he left the field in some sort of a pain but did return later though not called upon to bowl.

Nasser Hussain played a rather subdued innings, not quite what one would have liked from this immensely talented cricketer. He took lots of deliveries on his pads and survived a few appeals. In contrast, Thorpe played some thrilling shots to complete his 50 in 101 balls. The partnership crossed 100 runs in 226 balls. Continuing to collect runs slowly Hussain also completed his 50 in 145 balls.

The new ball came with England at 230 for 3 in 80 overs. Thorpe who was instrumental in holding the England innings together was out after scoring an enterprising 80. After hectic efforts Waqar's trap of bowling bouncers with a man at long leg paid off and a miscued hook was the result.

The day ended with England at 254 for 4, skipper Nasser Hussain holding the fort with 53 runs scored in 4 hours. Azhar Mahmood claimed 2 wickets, Waqar Younis and Abdur Razzaq shared one each.

Tomorrow, Pakistan will need to get some quick wickets while England's 6 remaining batsmen would look to set a large total and try to bowl Pakistan out twice.