Third Cornhill Test


David Norrie

Toss: England. Test debut: R. D. B. Croft.

In a predictable repeat of the Lord's Test, England's batting sank to the leg-spin of Mushtaq Ahmed on the final afternoon after they appeared to be in sight of land at lunch-time. This collapse left Pakistan comfortable winners of their fifth successive series over England. While Mushtaq collected his fifth five-wicket haul in his last six Tests and Pakistan captain Wasim Akram celebrated his 300th Test wicket, retiring chairman of selectors Ray Illingworth suffered his first home series defeat after three years in charge.

For Illingworth, coach David Lloyd and captain Mike Atherton it was a dismal end to a Test summer that had started promisingly at Edgbaston. The long-term worries and discussions centred on England's continuing fast-bowling shortcomings. Yet, badly as they bowled on Friday afternoon, that would not have led to defeat if their batsmen had not played poorly twice on a good pitch. England complained before, during and after the Test that it suited the tourists, but it was difficult to imagine a surface that would have delivered them victory over a side superior in all aspects. Where they must stop handing away the advantage is over the choice of match ball. Once again, Wasim called correctly and chose the Reader ball. For that reason alone, England would have preferred the Dukes. Everywhere else in the world, the home side nominates the type of ball to be used.

Once again, Russell was the first casualty of England's bid to level the series. Atherton's statement after Headingley that they would not sacrifice the wicket-keeper showed that a week in sport is about as long as seven days in politics. He was not even in the squad. With Stewart behind the stumps for the first time in Test cricket since July 1995, England were able to field five bowlers. Irani was dropped from the party, replaced by Glamorgan off-spinner Robert Croft. Either Croft or Lewis had been expected to miss out but, after it was decided to field both spinners - Croft and Salisbury - Atherton played a hunch about Lewis, leaving Caddick as surprised as anyone that his Headingley form did not merit a longer return to the England scene. Aamir Sohail returned for Pakistan, Mohammad Akram came in for Ata-ur-Rehman and Moin Khan retained the gloves although Rashid Latif was fit again.

Crawley's majestic first-day innings failed to disguise the fact that his team-mates had missed their opportunity after Atherton won the toss. Thorpe received a harsh lbw decision and Knight was unlucky to see the ball hit his pad, arm and wicket, but the others also got starts, and got out. Rain kept Crawley waiting until the next afternoon for the six runs he needed for his maiden Test hundred. After that, it was a bad Friday for England. Their total looked woefully inadequate as Saeed Anwar launched into some wayward bowling: the one exception was the new boy, Croft, who showed good skill, temperament, class and a clear pointer to England's spinning future. Pakistan finished the day less than a hundred adrift with only Sohail back in the pavilion. Anwar was already 116, which he took to a Test-best 176 on Saturday, when only 38.3 overs were permitted by rain. England's frustration was evident as Cork pushed Anwar out of the way while fielding the ball. The referee, Peter van der Merwe, spoke to both players, Cork apologised and the matter was closed.

The ingredients of Sunday's principal drama were a puncture on a Mercedes convertible and the late arrival of the most naturally talented and irritating England cricketer of recent times. Lewis's only appearance at The Oval at the correct time was on Illingworth's list for the one-day squad, announced an hour before the start. The man himself appeared 25 minutes later. After a meeting with Atherton, who then discussed the matter with Illingworth and Lloyd, Lewis was replaced in the one-day squad by Kent's Dean Headley. The big crime for the England management was his failure to ring in, even though all the players had been given mobile phones by a sponsor, for just such an eventuality. Lewis's brilliant run-out of Mujtaba later in the day served only to emphasise general bewilderment at his unfulfilled talent and irresponsibility.

On the field, Salim Malik capitalised on Anwar's work with a steady century, his 14th in Tests. Wasim declared 195 ahead; Atherton and Stewart had to survive the 23 overs remaining on the fourth day. They were still together at the close, which came at 7.18 p.m., because of rain, after a hostile barrage from the Pakistan fast bowlers. Mushtaq had come on to deliver the tenth over, from the Vauxhall End, and he bowled unchanged until 4.20 p.m. on the final afternoon when the innings ended. England had reached 158 for two at lunch - reminiscent of Lord's, where they were 152 for one. This time, they seemed to be in a stronger position, just 37 runs away from making the tourists bat again. But Mushtaq was already bowling round the wicket and Atherton had already gone. England's last eight wickets went down for 76 in 27 overs. Hussain received no benefit of the doubt from Sri Lankan umpire B. C. Cooray, and Crawley's concentration was disturbed by two streakers, but, generally, it was a sorry display. When Mushtaq bowled Cork to leave England 238 for eight, Wasim had to take the final two wickets to become the 11th member of the 300-club in his 70th Test. This he did in style, dismissing Croft and Mullally with successive balls; he fell to his knees as his team-mates ran to congratulate him. Pakistan completed the formality of scoring 48 to win in less than seven overs.

Groundsman Paul Brind was one of the few Englishmen to come out with any credit. Richie Benaud described his pitch as the perfect Test wicket because, as Pakistan proved, there was something for bowlers with ability who were prepared to bend their backs. England could cope with neither the pitch nor the Pakistanis, which offered Atherton and Lloyd little comfort for the future.

Man of the Match: Mushtaq Ahmed. Attendance: 66,704; receipts £1,546,751.

Men of the Series: England - A. J. Stewart; Pakistan - Mushtaq Ahmed.

Close of play: First day, England 278-6 (J. P. Crawley 94*, I. D. K. Salisbury 1*); Second day. Pakistan 229-1 (Saeed Anwar 116*, Ijaz Ahmed 58*); Third day, Pakistan 339-4 (Salim Malik 2*, Asif Mujtaba 1*); Fourth day, England 74-0 (M. A. Atherton 26*, A. J. Stewart 40*).

© John Wisden & Co