The Pakistani gladiators Saeed Anwar (77) and Inzamam-ul-Haq (79) literally mauled England's bowling to raise Pakistan to an indomitable position for victory. We saw, for a change, the Pakistan team in high spirits and tremendous form placing a target of 274 on the board, not easy for England to grab.
During England's innings a drama full of thrills was enacted. Pakistan bowlers, for once, supported by top class alert and agile fielding demolished England to clinch a stunning victory by 108 runs. Except for Nick Knight who played a defiant innings of 59 not out, the remaining batsmen fell like ninepins. The triumph takes Pakistan to its encounter against Australia at Cardiff, with spirits high and full trust in their prowess.
Edgbaston was the venue of the NatWest Series curtain raiser where Pakistan won the toss and took the obvious choice of batting first. Pakistan included Shahid Afridi, one of the 3 players called in for this tournament, to face the new ball with Saeed Afridi. But England made 5 changes from their test squad, the most important being of Alan Mullally invited to launch the attack in place of Andy Caddick, down with injury.
Shahid Afridi started with his traditional hurricane hitting to score 25 off 24 balls with 4 hits to the boundary. Not able to resist his impulse of playing high shots, he holed out to Mark Ealham at long on off Alan Mullally. Certainly not an impressive start, losing the 1st wicket at 34.
The 2nd wicket went at 55 when Abdur Razzaq made a quick exit after being run out. Some tight fielding by England temporarily restricted the scoring, from 31 in the first 5 overs it dropped to 79 in 20 overs. Saeed Anwar was joined by Inzamam and he gave it a boost by hitting Mark Ealham for a mighty 6 followed by a blistering 4 in the 23rd over. With a tantalizing sweep to fine leg Saeed hoisted his 50 of the innings.
Pakistan's 100 came in the 25th over and with two superstars on a hitting spree now, the score stormed upwards. In the 31st over Saeed delighted the crowd by hitting Ealham over the long on boundary for his 2nd six. The 100 run partnership came up in 106 balls when Inzamam had hit a sparkling 50.
Climbing to a run rate of 5, the pair raised the total to 200 in the 40th over and provided the large crowd a feast of entertainment by playing thrilling shots all over the field. In full command of the game they carried on punishing the bowlers to the crowd's delight.
Just as the 150 partnership off 157 balls came about, England struck back and ousted this dangerous pair. The paid for trying to slog for quick runs and made their way to the pavilion one after the other. Both Saeed (77) and Inzamam (79) did give the fans an exhibition of exhilarating batsmanship and with their departure Pakistan was 207 for 4.
The batsmen who followed played with the sole object of providing Pakistan an impressive total and had raised it to 273 for 6 when 50 overs were up. Azhar Mahmood remained not out with an invaluable 38 scored with the help of 4 fours and a towering six, setting England a challenging target of 274 to win.
Losing the opening pair of Marcus Trescothick (28) and Ally Brown (6) at only 48 England too made a depressing start but the run rate of 4.8 was quite impressive. It now was up to the rest to do what Pakistan had done but it came down drastically with the new batsmen taking the crease.
Encouraged by early success, Waqar and Azhar Mahmood bowled a devastating spell. Alec Stewart (10) and Michael Vaughan (5) were the victims of spectacular catches taken by substitute Shoaib Malik and Saeed Anwar off a deadly Azhar Mahmood and England slumped to 86 for 4.
Putting on more pressure, the bowlers continued to take their toll. Paul Collingwood (2) and Ben Hollioake (6) were the next to depart, bringing England down to 108 for 6. I have never seen Pakistan fielders as brilliant, sharp and agile as in this game.
It simply was not England's day. The procession continued with Dominic Cork bowled by Shahid Afridi, a stock bowler who bowls fastish leg breaks on the very first ball he delivered and England on a miserable 135 for 7. On his heels followed Marl Ealham and Darren Gough putting England down to 147 for 9.
With only the last wicket to fall, the writing was on the wall. The partisan crowd full of Pakistan supporters invaded the ground and delayed the inevitable by over 35 minutes with the security personnel chasing them around and even the Pakistan skipper was called out for help. When play resumed for the final rites, Nick Knight had scored a heroic half-century but was unable to rescue his team and ran out of partners. England was at last out for 165 runs in 47.2 overs. Nick Knight remained unbeaten with a gallant 59.
Pakistan won by 108 runs and Shahid Afridi with 3 wickets and Waqar Younis, Azhar Mahmood and Saqlain Mushtaq with 2 apiece were the bowlers who did the damage. Pakistan will now take on Australia at Cardiff on Saturday with renewed vigour and confidence, another thrill in store.