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November 24, 2005
This team has long been averse to doing things the easy way, so to suggest that slumping to 20 for 4 on the final afternoon was taking the biscuit would be ... well, taking the biscuit. They did much the same at Centurion in the final Test last winter, and let's not forget, of course, the Oval Test in September. When England are involved, even that dreary old chestnut, the no-result, takes on the properties of the finest truffle.
It is somewhat ironic that the issues of daylight that were cited as England's greatest obstacle to victory should resurface in the form of a guardian angel. With Shoaib Akhtar screeching to the crease in a lung-busting final surge, the prospect of a grim derailment was tempered only by the speed at which the sun was setting over the midwicket stands. One good partnership was all that England needed, and that was duly provided as Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen added 80 for the fifth wicket.
One good partnership. How England must be kicking themselves this evening. For that was the cry that went up after Multan, as England tried and failed to chase 198 for victory. At Multan, moreover, it was Pietersen and Flintoff who were singled out for crassness, as both men flung their wickets away in search of quick runs over time at the crease.
Today, on the other hand, they were reformed characters, neither leaving the crease until they had been forcibly removed. Pietersen fell to the wily Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, poking a catch to short cover as the ball stopped on his defensive push, while Flintoff was decapitated by perhaps the ball of the match - a vicious round-the-wicket bouncer that he had absolutely no hope of escaping. No complaints or recriminations about those evictions, nor indeed for rest of the top of the order. Had England ended up losing this one, it would simply have been because Pakistan were superb.
On the occasion of Ian Botham's 50th birthday, it was appropriate that Flintoff was the man who guided England most of the way to safety. This was an innings that Botham was rarely moved to play, and Flintoff himself only recently - the role of watchful custodian is not a part of either man's natural gameplan.
Though he smeared a six off Danish Kaneria - a calculated assault on a man who, remarkably, finished wicketless for the game - the only power that otherwise emanated from his bat was that that Shoaib himself applied. His fifty was brought up in a flurry of three consecutive fours - two whistling pushes through point and a flash-in-the-pan deflection - and it all happened so quickly that Flintoff didn't seem to notice the landmark that he had reached. It's hardly surprising though. He was somewhat preoccupied at the time.
So the teams move onto Lahore, with the series alive and the crowds invigorated by two of the most enthralling home fixtures they've been treated to for a while. The fear for England is that too much time will be lost to the encircling winters, especially with the start time set for 10am and not the usual 9.30. But then, they thought that here as well. With Inzamam and Shoaib, Pakistan's two most pivotal performers, in the zone and hungry for more, England have a scrap-and-a-half on their hands if they wish to avoid their first series defeat since Sri Lanka in December 2003. They said back then as well that a tour of the subcontinent was one of the hardest tasks in cricket. Perhaps now they'll say it again with feeling.
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