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November 16, 2005
Truthfully, this was a heist, plain and simple but magnificent and in keeping with a recent pattern of comebacks. Bob Woolmer said later he didn't think Pakistan could win till the last wicket fell and he wasn't alone. They had been scrapping, sometimes honestly, sometimes ineptly for four days, to stay with England. From the collapse on the first day, through the flat second, through the fightback on the third and the disastrous implosion on the fourth, Pakistan barely hung on. Today, as in Bangalore earlier this year, all that is good about the team spewed forth.
At the centre were suspects expected and unexpected. Nothing about Danish Kaneria suggests that he lacks the appetite for a fight. Indian batsmen early in the year and Brian Lara halfway through it, put his character and bowling through the most brutal assessment. Yet he won little battles against both, most notably dismissing Lara for a duck in Kingston, one of five wickets that set up Pakistan's win. Perhaps his biggest battle was with those - and there are a few - who persist in comparing him unfavourably with Abdul Qadir. That he played such a role against England - Qadir's traditional nemesis and against whom much of his legend is built - should go some way towards silencing them.
In the first innings here, his effort, if not the requisite fortune, was forthcoming. Today found him in his element. Repeatedly he targeted the shins of batsmen, getting gentle drift and some drop, but always asking them to drive or sweep. Repeatedly also he beat their outside edge. Each delivery, he strived for, and got in sharp, extravagant measures, bounce and break. In the top-edged sweep of Flintoff and the cut of Bell, he received the bonus of their wickets. But it was the flummoxing of Udal which demanded attention.
Twirled from round the wicket, he looped it towards off-stump, begging to be driven through cover; Udal seized upon the invite, never to realise that it was a back-handed one and as the ball turned in as sharply as any leg-break onto his middle stump, he only saw Kaneria wheeling away, arms outstretched. He has dismissed better batsmen with the googly, but possibly not bowled a better one.
Kaneria's role had been tentatively forecast; that of Pakistan's pace attack had not. This was only the second Test that Shabbir, Shoaib and Sami have played together - the first was, ingloriously also here but against India - and with 14 wickets between them, they offered compelling evidence of their combined threat.
If Shabbir is moulded from altogether different materials, Sami and Shoaib represent a more traditional Pakistani fast bowling model. Sami, banking on memories of Bangalore rather than most of his other 21 Tests, took two wickets in a rousing seven-over spell. But as on the final sun-drenched Bangalore afternoon, his most fearsome delivery today - one that makes you wonder what he has been doing for so long - didn't get him the wicket he deserved. Then, he had bowled it to Sachin Tendulkar no less, on the stroke of tea, not too short but nasty, brutish, and blisteringly quick. It caught Tendulkar fending, utterly surprised. Asim Kamal dropped the chance at short leg then; had there been a short leg in place today, a strikingly similar ball would have brought him the wicket of Flintoff, who knew not whether to duck or stand tall and instead did both as the ball looped up off his glove.
But given the auspiciousness of the day, it was only apt that the most telling contributions were those of the man who is Pakistan's leading candidate to inherit Waqar's mantle. Shoaib Akhtar came into this match arousing no fear or confidence, only uncertainty. He ended it as should be his trademark pose: arms outstretched, running down the pitch, hair flapping.
Seemingly, all his work here was done to confound his most committed critics. It was there in the determination in his batting yesterday and it has been there in his bowling during nearly 40 overs in the match and in each of his six wickets. He has not looked, as he does often, forlorn. Vitally, the shattering of Giles's middle and leg stump - at 94mph - wasn't only the most fitting tribute to Waqar, it appropriately helped Pakistan successfully defend a target of under 200 for the first time since Waqar - in tandem with Wasim - bowled New Zealand out for 93 chasing 127 in 1993.
As it has always been with him, questions of whether he can sustain it remain. But so do questions about Pakistan's batting. Neither though are as intriguing as how Pakistan will cope now. They find themselves, for the first time under Bob Woolmer, with a lead in a series. Today, they rightly celebrate an old-fashioned result grafted on new methods; further north in Faisalabad, one-up, they enter territory unseen.
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