May 19, 2001

England in the driving seat

Playing to a plan - safe and steady - England lifted their total to a challenging 391 today. In reply, Pakistan was trapped on a pitch that suddenly started offering extraordinary movement and bounce. The very strip that earlier reduced the much-vaunted Pakistan attack to mediocrity. How come? Not so, the difference lay in application, pitching up, getting the ball to land on the seam and all the other arts of pace bowling ably displayed by England's pacers. Their dynamic attack devoured Pakistan's top batting and stalwarts like Saeed Anwar, Saleem Elahi, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Abdur Razzaq were sent back after playing some pretty poor cricket at a petty score of 60.

Yousuf Youhana and Younis Khan, however, stemmed the rot raising the total to 115 for 4 when play was called off for bad light. Having lost 4 top batsmen and the target to avoid follow-on raised to 242 runs, Pakistan are in a precarious situation.

Earlier, England resumed with immense confidence, though lost Ryan Sidebottom, the night watchman at the overnight score of 254 and providing Wasim Akram his 410th wicket in test cricket.

The Pakistan speedsters took off in aggressive style, especially Shoaib Akhtar who made full use of the bouncy wicket and delivered more bouncers than straight ones. Although punished with a few hooks and pulls to the boundary, he did manage to browbeat Nasser Hussain restricting him to the crease and struck a painful blow on his right thumb. Azhar exploited the situation far better by pitching up and grabbing his wicket with a straight ball. Unfortunately Nasser Hussain was diagnosed to have a broken bone and will miss the remainder of this test as well as the next. Hussain played a real captain's innings of 64, badly needed to restore his image as one of England's top batsmen.

Making relentless efforts to claim a wicket with his re-modeled action, Shoaib eventually succeeded in trapping Alec Stewart lbw on a slower delivery, after he had played a superb innings of 44. Shoaib's spell was not without anxiety to Pakistan fans for he looked like having twisted his ankle but restored himself after receiving some first-aid. At lunch England was 341 for 7 and Pakistan had grabbed 3 wickets.

Pakistan bowlers relied on short-pitched deliveries trying to tempt the batsmen to pull or hook. But they were not playing flashy strokes, the clear objective being to play long innings and get an unbeatable total with only 2 more days left and put the pressure on Pakistan. Runs came in ones and twos with the odd boundary serving as entertainment to spectators.

Wasim Akram aspiring to fill his bag with more and more test wickets, struck once again when he made short work of Dominic Cork, who had played some excellent strokes in his 25 run cameo. Clean bowled by Azhar Mahmood, Andy Caddick was the next to go and England was at 385 for 9.

The end came at 391 with the departure of Ian Ward, the debutante who collected 39 runs in 81 balls. With a magnificent haul of 4 wickets Azhar Mahmood emerged the top Pakistan bowler while the famous pair of W's were able to only buy 2 wickets apiece. With one wicket in his pocket the walking-wounded Shoaib Akhtar, whose very presence in the field was shrouded in anxiety, was lucky to endure the full innings.

Before tea, Pakistan made a disastrous start losing both the openers Saleem Elahi and Saeed Anwar within a span of 4 overs with only 21 runs on the board. They did not face the pace and bounce of Darren Gough and Andy Caddick with any confidence and played away from their bodies to swinging and seaming balls. Inzamam, Pakistan's best hope, who required 36 runs to complete his 5000 runs in test cricket came and went after scoring only 13 and his team was miserably placed at 37 for 3 while Darren Gough and Andy Caddick played havoc with the ball.

Abdur Razzaq the 4th victim of England's pace demons also fell in the same manner. The disaster was in the main part of Pakistan's own making, none of the batsmen came in line with the ball, thus offering catches in the slips or behind the stumps.

Yousuf Youhana and Younis Khan came to their team's rescue after the post-lunch debacle, raising the total to 115 for 4 and were still there at the end when play was called off, some solace to Pakistan fans.

With his 3 wickets, Andy Caddick was the main wrecker of Pakistan's top batting.

Now that the target to avoid follow-on is set at 242, Pakistani batsmen shall have to apply themselves in right earnest when the game resumes on Day-4.