Pakistan v England, 3rd ODI, Karachi December 15, 2005

Akmal leads the charge in thrilling display



Abdul Razzaq tore into the England attack to build on Kamran Akmal's century © Getty Images
Five years on, and the state of the visitors' dressing-room could not have been more contrasting. As dusk fell in December 2000, the lights gleaming through the darkness showed a picture of jubilation, as Nasser Hussain and his cohorts celebrated a magnificent series victory to rank alongside any England had produced in the past 20 years. Tonight, at a similar hour, there was only doom and gloom, as Hussain's successors came to terms with one of the most crushing defeats in one-day history.

One-hundred-and-sixty-five runs was the eventual margin, a debacle that equalled England's previous worst, at St Vincent in March 1994, when West Indies were so dominant that even Brian Lara was allowed to get in among the wickets, as he picked up two of the four scalps of his career. Tonight Pakistan turned to seven of their 12 available players, but each was a frontline bowler in his own right. There was no toying with English emotions today, just a comprehensive trouncing.

So Pakistan take a 2-1 lead into the final leg of the series, starting at Rawalpindi in four days' time, and on this evidence it is hard to envisage anything other than a repeat of England's last one-day series overseas, when South Africa also came from behind to take the rubber 4-1. Christmas is a-coming and the troops are getting flat, and given the catalogue of disappointments that have unravelled in recent weeks, they probably can't get home soon enough.

This, however, was Pakistan's victory, not England's defeat. And moreover, it was Karachi's victory, as the city that international cricket tried to forget put on a show to remember. In 2004, it was the Indians who sampled the uniquely buoyant atmosphere of the National Stadium, and rode a tide of emotions to seal a thrilling five-run win. Today, after being gifted first-use of another belter of a wicket, it was Pakistan, and specifically Kamran Akmal, who set about ensuring another occasion to remember.

Akmal has been a revelation in the latter half of this tour, and a thorn in England's side like few batsmen this side of Lara. He has compiled three centuries in four innings in Tests and one-dayers alike, but today he touched heights of batsmanship that few had believed he had in him. With his diminutive stature and goofy grin, he is an unassuming assassin, but today he unveiled forearms like steel, and England were, quite literally, cut to ribbons.

Any hint of width, and the ball would disappear through the point boundary with an assurance that was once Robin Smith's trademark. He has now compiled three one-day hundreds from his favoured opening slot, and has never yet failed to convert a fifty. At a moment when it is being widely suggested that Adam Gilchrist's star is on the wane - in one-day cricket at least - a new wicketkeeper-batsman is coming to the fore, just in time for the 2007 World Cup.

England's depleted performers had absolutely no answer, with Andrew Flintoff the best in show, conceding 57 from his ten overs, and at least finding a line tight enough at the death to prevent a total of 353 - the highest ever compiled in one-day internationals against England - from eclipsing England's own mark of 363 - the highest in contests between the two nations. That effort was compiled over 55 overs on the fractious 1992 tour, but seeing as Pakistan already had the World Cup in their trophy cabinet, they really weren't counting the small change back then.

Could a second World Cup triumph be on the cards in 15 months' time? On this evidence, Pakistan can not be buttonholed as mere dark horses any more. With every passing international, they are becoming ever more coherent as a threat, and today's return to the starting line-up of Shahid Afridi added another three strings to an already formidable bow.

Afridi missed the start of the series, plus the third Test at Lahore, after leaving scuff marks on the pitch at Faisalabad, but in making his comeback on his home ground he was never likely to disappoint. The crowd were baying for his appearance long before he finally trudged out at No. 5, and he duly delivered, flogging a world-weary attack for 31 in 14 balls before getting involved in a comedy run-out.

That effort, however, was trumped by Abdul Razzaq, another recent returnee whose presence provides enviable and explosive depth to both the batting and bowling line-ups. Until he became bogged down against Flintoff, Razzaq was well on course to break Sanath Jayasuriya's 17-ball record for the fastest fifty in one-day cricket, but instead had to make do with pedestrian 22-ball effort.

England's response was disinterested at worst, disgraceful at best. The tour is drawing to a close but the series remains live and kicking, and yet they gave their wickets away with gay abandon. Their recklessness was all the more astounding given the fact that Trescothick had chosen to chase under the lights. "I thought we'd be chasing 300," he admitted afterwards, "and I'd have backed us on these sorts of wickets. But we were never at the party."

The party instead took place in the stands, as Karachi's cricket faithful sang their side to victory under the floodlights. Two more matches remain of this series, but on this evidence, the show is already over.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo