3rd Test, Lahore

Pakistan v England

Matthew Engel

At Lahore, November 29, 30, December 1, 2, 3, 2005. Pakistan won by an innings and 100 runs. Toss: England. Test debut: L. E. Plunkett.

England were inching towards a draw in this match as though walking a narrow parapet to escape a burning building. They got within touching distance of the fire escape. Then there was a sudden slip, a lurch - and down they plummeted. But there was no gasp of horror from the onlookers. Instead, the crowd did jigs of delight and deafeningly crashed their hands against the plastic seats.

Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood batted the game towards torpor for more than four hours until, just after lunch on the final day, England lost eight for 43 in 70 minutes, ending their supposedly glorious Test year with one of the most startling collapses of recent history. The win was concocted by the enigmatic Shoaib Akhtar, who used both his extreme pace and his near-unreadable slower ball to devastating effect, and the legspinner Danish Kaneria. They were briefly awesome.

Overall, on a slow pitch with a fast outfield, batsmen found it easy to stay in once ensconced, but hard to get settled. Thus a turnaround was always plausible: England's batting in the final phase was abject, but not especially incompetent. Their real disaster had come at the start, when they squandered the advantage of winning the toss at last, and let themselves be bowled out for 288.

For a while, it was possible to kid oneself that the surface was wicked enough to make this a passable score. But from lunchtime on the third day, as Mohammad Yousuf and Kamran Akmal took utter command, it was clear that England's prime objective - victory to square the series - was unattainable. In the end, the secondary target of a draw proved elusive too. There was no serious argument that Pakistan deserved their 2-0 series victory.

Both teams had been forced into changes, for an unusual assortment of reasons. For Pakistan, Shahid Afridi (ban) and Younis Khan (bereavement) were replaced by Asim Kamal and Hasan Raza. Strauss (imminent fatherhood) had flown back to England, with Giles (hip injury) to follow, which brought Collingwood back, and encouraged coach Duncan Fletcher to revert to his preferred formula of four seamers. He opted for Collingwood's 20-year-old Durham team-mate Liam Plunkett ahead of the perpetually ignored Anderson; with Harmison there as well, this gave Durham - 14 years after they ceased to be a Minor County - three of the team, more than any other county.

Batting first was not an obvious choice, and Vaughan and Trescothick had to endure a difficult opening session on a juicy pitch. They came through it and, as the century stand came up with the surface easing, England appeared to be contemplating riches. They responded by batting like philanthropists.

On the face of it, the unregarded off-spinner Shoaib Malik broke through. In fact, the batsmen did it for him. The top three plus Jones all went to sweeps - a shot much favoured by Fletcher - though the word over-dignifies Jones's horrid swipe. In each case, the shots were more ill-executed than ill-conceived. With Pietersen mis-glancing (one of two marvellous catches by Akmal), and Flintoff mis-hooking, England were six down by the close.

Only Collingwood, who said he avoided sweeping because he was rubbish at it, held firm. He concentrated on driving anything over-pitched and was eyeing a maiden Test century when he had a brainstorm and opted for the grand manner. Kaneria took the catch; Collingwood's dismay was compounded by England's dire situation, and the sense that - with his own place so conditional - he might have blown his only chance.

The tailenders quickly followed him, but Hoggard struck back promptly, and Pakistan were 12 for two. By the end of the second day, the game was still poised. Not merely were they four down for 185, but their captain and mainstay, Inzamam-ul-Haq, had gone to hospital after being hit on the forearm by Harmison.

Later that evening, a relieved Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach, said the arm was bruised, not broken, and that Inzamam would bat next day. He didn't, but only because Pakistan lost just one wicket. And that was the night-watchman, Shoaib Akhtar, who had started to break England's optimism before giving way to Akmal, sent in ahead of the padded-up Inzy to give him a little more recovery time. Nearly a full day more, it turned out.

Instead of crossing himself on reaching a hundred, as he used to do, the Muslim convert Mohammad Yousuf prostrated himself. Somewhere in the transition from being Yousuf Youhana he had also gained patience, precisely the quality Fletcher said later that England must acquire to succeed on the subcontinent.

Akmal provided congenial and long-lasting company. England thought that, if they bowled outside off stump, he would edge it soon enough. But they put on 269, a Pakistan sixth-wicket record. Yousuf's 223 took ten hours two minutes and 373 balls and included 26 fours and two sixes; he became the first man to score Test doublecenturies under different names.

Yet England did not bowl badly. Harmison was ferocious but almost wholly luckless on day two, and Plunkett encouraged the whole England camp, except his rival Anderson. Bowling his tenth ball, he embarrassingly fell over, but he got up to induce a nick from Salman Butt from his 11th. He rarely wavered through a long, tough initiation ceremony. Flintoff, it has to be said, looked knackered.

Yousuf's exit brought in a fully recovered Inzamam, who raced merrily on to his fifth half-century out of five and was planning his third successive century when he was run out. He was livid, as the supposedly guilty party, Naved-ul-Hasan, soon discovered. Inzamam immediately declared, leaving England 348 behind with five and a bit sessions to survive (minus the inevitable time lost to bad light). Trescothick, plumb, lasted two balls; Vaughan was not far behind. But Bell and Collingwood dug in, and at lunch on the final day the draw was moving close towards betting certainty. In the pavilion, though, Woolmer was moving among the troops and whispering.

Kaneria, having choked the scoring by bowling round the wicket, now went over it and got Collingwood four balls after the break. Pietersen followed in his next over, and Flintoff was befuddled by a first-ball googly. Now Shoaib Akhtar joined in, mixing up deliveries at more than 90mph with what must have become the world's most guileful slower one. That had done for Vaughan 24 hours earlier, and accounted for Bell, after a staunch 92, and Plunkett. Disarray was followed by surrender.

England's irritation might be compounded by the thought that no Test might ever again be as easy, in theory, to draw. The start each day was set for 10 a.m., as opposed to 9.30 on the other grounds, because of notional but invisible dew. And Lahore's midwinter twilight forced an end around 4.30 every day - the floodlights adding 15 minutes at best. Pakistan were now likely to be given a special exemption to stage sixday Tests.

Man of the Match: Mohammad Yousuf.

© Wisden Cricketers' Almanack