Second Test

England v Pakistan, 2006

Richard Hobson

At Manchester, July 27, 28, 29. England won by an innings and 120 runs. Toss: Pakistan.

Fifty years to the week after Jim Laker took 19 Australian wickets at Old Trafford, England produced their most effective display of the summer to go 1-0 up. There were no stellar performances to match Laker's; there probably never will be. But that did not dilute a feeling of well-being as two young batsmen, Cook and Bell, recorded hundreds for the second Test in a row, while Harmison, rhythm and confidence restored, claimed match figures of 11 for 76. And, fittingly, spin played a part: Panesar took eight wickets, to fan the Monty Mania that had begun to reach the nation's sports desks.

Strauss had left Lord's expecting to return to the ranks, with Flintoff resuming the captaincy. When Flintoff finally faced the reality of further surgery on his left ankle, however, the tenure of the "stand-in for the stand-in", as Strauss modestly described himself, was extended to the end of the series. Certainty appeared to embolden Strauss. In a strong pre-Test address, he called on what was now his side to force home advantages, and urged those who had become regulars since the Ashes to contribute match-winning performances instead of simply chipping in.

Nobody responded better than Panesar, who confirmed his growing reputation as the most exciting young English spinner for a generation. He bowled with control and aggression, gave the ball a genuine rip when he wanted, and cast aside suggestions that Jamie Dalrymple's all-round solidity might have been preferred to his specialised talent. A year earlier, Ashley Giles went wicketless here on the final day of the Ashes Test, when England badly needed penetration. Panesar, still in theory his locum, gave them exactly that.

Little went right for Pakistan after Inzamam-ul-Haq won the toss. Coach Bob Woolmer revealed he had spent £91.65 on a granite slab topped with marble which he placed on a net pitch to generate steepling bounce. But however well his batsmen coped in practice, they showed little appetite when groundsman Peter Marron produced something similar for the real contest. Harmison said he had waited all year for a pitch like it. Early variations in bounce made batting even more awkward, but could not excuse a meagre first innings which was done and dusted inside three hours. The loss of Pakistan's last eight wickets for 29 recalled some of England's own travails against Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram a decade earlier.

Harmison removed Imran Farhat in his second over and Kamran Akmal - the wicketkeeper unwisely promoted to shore up the top of the order - in his third. Mohammad Yousuf overcame a brilliant first over from Mahmood, recalled on his home ground in place of the injured Plunkett, and added 81 with Younis Khan, himself back from injury. Just when it seemed they had weathered the storm, both of them fell in the two overs before lunch. In perfect symmetry, two more batsmen fell straight after the break.

Nothing better crystallised events than the demise of Inzamam, caught at gully off the splice after Harmison did him for pace. These were very different conditions from Faisalabad or Multan, and that kind of rushed stroke, ending Inzamam's sequence of nine half-centuries against England, cannot have helped the lower order's nerves. Strauss was left with an easy test of captaincy; he simply persisted with Harmison and Panesar in tandem. They finished up sharing 19 wickets between them, a feat achieved only once for England since Laker's day: by Phil Tufnell and Andrew Caddick in the 1997 Ashes win at The Oval.

Harmison claimed most of his wickets with full-length balls, but the threat of his well-directed bouncer made batsmen reluctant to come forward. Whether defending like Abdul Razzaq or counter-attacking like Shahid Afridi, they did not last long. Figures of six for 19 were Harmison's best since his seven for 12 in Jamaica in 2003- 04, which helped to propel him - briefly - to No. 1 in the Test rankings.

Pakistan lacked a tall bowler to capitalise in the same way. Trescothick raised their hopes by edging behind and Strauss, England's only other loss on the first day, was distracted by light reflecting off a glass door in the hospitality boxes at the Stretford End. Expectation grew, again, when Pietersen succumbed to the third ball of the Friday, but it typified Pakistan's misfortune that Farhat should hurt a finger in taking the sharp catch at gully. Cook, with a mature ability to focus on the next ball rather than dwell on the last, became the first England player since Botham to score a third hundred in his first seven Tests, and Collingwood chiselled away in his familiar workmanlike fashion. For sheer fluency, neither matched the free-flowing Bell, who looked a strokemaker of the highest order as he completed his fourth Test hundred in 127 balls.

A first-innings lead of 342 was enough to absorb most setbacks, but England were still entitled to feel uneasy when Harmison pulled up with a side strain at the end of the second day. He responded to overnight treatment, however, and they duly wrapped up proceedings. Pakistan made them work slightly harder this time: eight players, rather than three, reached double figures. But, although the pitch had not really deteriorated, they were simply too far adrift to recover. After Harmison bounced out Akmal, Panesar claimed the next five, including Yousuf, stumped off the first ball after lunch. He managed to turn the ball off the pitch as well as out of the rough and never felt moved to "buy" a wicket. Younis proved his fitness with Pakistan's only half-century of the match, but Inzamam's disappointment was complete when a ball from Panesar ricocheted via his boot to silly point. It fell to Harmison to scythe through the tail.

A ruthless display was completed on the third evening when Jones, unencumbered by a fracture to the tip of his right ring finger, held a skier from Razzaq, his fifth dismissal of the innings. Despite waning confidence with the bat, Jones had kept wicket almost flawlessly. But it was hard to credit, as his advocates now suggested, that he might cling on to his place because of superior glovework.

Man of the Match: S. J. Harmison.

© Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
 
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