Pakistan v England, 1st Test, 4th day, Multan November 15, 2005

Don't panic, it's under control



England refuse to panic and that's down the ability of their pace attack, led in this match by Andrew Flintoff © Getty Images
At times of perceived crisis, this England team does its damnedest not to panic. Whether it's three top-order batting collapses in a row, as occurred in the warm-ups at Rawalpindi and Lahore, or the sight of Salman Butt and Inzamam-ul-Haq marching steadfastly onwards in an ominous fourth-wicket stand, they stick to their guns, rely on their nous and trust in their will to win. And after six series wins in a row, it's a formula that is hard to pick holes in.

After a difficult day three, in which Pakistan hauled themselves right back into contention, England regrouped superbly when the conditions fell once again in their favour, and seized on their only opportunity for victory. The new ball is everything in conditions such as these. It provides a 10-over window of shine, bounce and movement, and England's three-pronged pace attack utilised the conditions superbly - for the second time in the match.

Before the series began, the absence of Simon Jones was cited as a significant dent to England's series aspirations, and sure enough, without his peerless manipulation of the old ball, England's attack lost that all-day-round menace that had proven so devastating against the Australians. Andrew Flintoff had found enough shape through the air to derail Pakistan's first innings, but second-time around he found considerably less assistance. "After 80 overs it looked like a dog had chewed it," he admitted afterwards. There was only one alternative.

Flintoff and the new ball are familiar bedfellows in the subcontinent, for he took it in India four years ago, as well as in Sri Lanka on the 2003-04 tour. His strength, height and deck-hitting ability make him an unparalleled threat in such conditions, especially when allied to the metronomic efficiency that made him the most frugal operator at the 2003 World Cup. His magnificent match figures of 8 for 156 are his best in Tests, and quite possibly, the best he has yet bowled for England. After his summer's heroics, that is quite some accolade.

But it was not a one-man show, which made England's efforts today all the more meritorious. The mark of a great side is its bowling attack, and in Flintoff, Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison, England have hit upon a triumvirate who have the skill and discipline to overcome all conditions. Pakistan is cited (by overseas pacemen who have clearly never heard of Waqar Younis or Wasim Akram) as a fast-bowler's graveyard, but these three have combined superbly to deliver England to the door of their sixth Test win of a memorable year.

The ratio of wickets was exactly the same as in the first innings. Four to Flintoff, three to Harmison, two to Hoggard and one to the spinner (Ashley Giles this time, not Shaun Udal), but that is far from being a marking system. Each performed his role to the best of his ability, with Hoggard's intercessions being the best of the lot - the big breakthrough of Inzamam, and the crucial capture of the excellent Butt, whose match tally of 196 is just two runs shy of Marcus Trescothick's titanic contribution.

For all the inspiration he has provided in a remarkably hands-on match as captain, Trescothick won't be able to guide England to the finish, however. His late dismissal, bowled off the inside-edge by the deserving Shabbir Ahmed, was a timely reminder of the perils that lie ahead in tomorrow's sprint for the finish. England will back themselves however. Since overcoming South Africa at The Oval in 2003, they have completed 12 successful run-chases, and been bowled out in the fourth innings just twice - both of them futile routs against Australia at Lord's last summer, and at Cape Town last winter.

Talking of that South Africa trip, the match that this game most resembles, at present, is the first match of that series, at Port Elizabeth. It was another game that England bossed from the start, contrived to let slip, but rallied on the fourth day to return to the ascendancy. It was also the match that followed an infamous warm-up defeat, against South Africa A at Potchefstroom. Then, as now, the mantra has been consistent. Everything's under control, is the message from the England camp.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo