Pakistan survive bold England fightback

England v Pakistan, NatWest Challenge, 1st ODI, Old Trafford

Pakistan 208 for 8 (Hafeez 69) beat England 204 for 9 (Flintoff 39) by two wickets

Michael Vaughan: maintained his mid-20s average

In front of a packed Old Trafford and in a cacophony of blaring horns that was more Lahore than Lancashire, Pakistan squeaked to a thrilling two-wicket victory in the first match of the NatWest Challenge. In a game of four quarters, England's youthful team started and finished with exuberance and optimism, but gave way to naivety in the vital middle sections of the match. It was a flawed match, but none the less utterly compelling.
The last time these two teams met, at Newlands during the World Cup, James Anderson had destroyed Pakistan's old guard with figures of 4 for 29. But four months later, while his first three overs were disappearing for 23 runs, Pakistan's new-look team was proving a different proposition. England had squandered a breakneck start to finish on a disappointing 204 for 9, and while Imran Nazir and Mohammad Hafeez were adding 60 for the first wicket, a tediously one-sided run-chase seemed on the cards.
England had their moments, but they hardly hinted at the tension to come. Rikki Clarke became the first Englishman for 31 years to take a wicket with his first ball in an ODI, when Imran was surprised by a high-bouncing long-hop (60 for 1), and when Yasir Hameed got bored of collecting the ones and twos, he hoisted Ashley Giles for Anthony McGrath to take a fine catch running back from long-on (112 for 2). But Hafeez was anchoring the innings with chanceless timing and placement, and though Pakistan consistently remained 20 runs behind England's run-rate, they had wickets in hand, and were eating inexorably into the requirement.
England desperately needed something special, and like the proverbial Manchester trams, two came along at once. With 15 overs and 66 runs remaining, Andrew Flintoff returned to the attack after a miserly first spell, and immediately unsettled Yousuf Youhana with his wicket-to-wicket cannonballs. Youhana squirted one into the covers and set off for a run, only to be sent on his way as Michael Vaughan picked up and threw down the stumps in one smooth movement (139 for 3).
And then, three balls later, Anderson put his first three overs behind him to bowl Younis Khan, with a late-moving inducker that pitched on off and clipped the top of middle (139 for 4). Younis was gone for 0, and the two surviving batsman from the Cape Town match had contributed eight runs between them.
Hafeez, who had batted with unrelenting patience, sensed the change in mood, and when Anderson suckered him with a slower ball, Clarke at short midwicket stretched above Jim Troughton's head to gather the top-edged pull. At 158 for 5, England had the momentum and the upper hand for the first time since those opening 15 overs.
Azhar Mahmood slapped Anderson for six to raise Pakistan's spirits, but the irrepressible Darren Gough still had two overs remaining. With the fifth ball of Gough's second spell, Shoaib Malik attempted something ambitious over long-off and holed out to Clarke in the covers for 23 (181 for 6). It seemed it would matter little when a nervous Anderson dished up a selection of wides and leg-stump full-tosses in his next over, but he suddenly rediscovered his Midas touch, trapping Rashid Latif lbw with an inswinging yorker (188 for 7).
Gough rose to Anderson's challenge with a well-directed bouncer that Mahmood wellied to a leaping Troughton at short midwicket, and at 194 for 8, Mohammad Sami loped to the crease with three balls of the over to survive. He did just that, and though Anderson conceded two runs from his remaining two overs, England had been forced to play their hand too soon. Clarke, the only option for the final overs, was unable to emulate his earlier heroics, and a carved four over point all but sealed the game. There was still time, however, for Vaughan to be reminded of his criminal misfield against Australia at Port Elizabeth, when he fumbled at cover to bring the scores level with 11 balls remaining.
Pakistan's efforts were a far cry from their vapid performances in the World Cup. A vigorous young line-up fielded tigerishly, particularly in the covers, and were marshalled impressively by Latif, who juggled his bowlers and field placings, and picked up three smart catches - as well as a bruised cheekbone while standing up to Hafeez, who began the day as a promising Saqlain Mushtaq clone, but finished it as an allrounder in his own right.
Pakistan's wickets were shared between five bowlers, but it was the astonishingly rapid bowling of Sami that really stood out. He stepped into the triple void left by the retirements of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, and the suspension of Shoaib Akhtar, and touched 96mph on occasions. He also varied his pace to great effect and made the first breakthrough, when Marcus Trescothick touched a rapid off-stump lifter through to Latif (45 for 1).
England had made a riotous start to the match. Vikram Solanki's run-a-ball 36 more than justified his recall after a three-year absence, while Vaughan's first innings as England one-day captain was another curate's-egg performance from someone who is so composed in the Test arena. He charmed one flowing cover-drive and hoisted the gangly Umar Gul for a magnificent six over midwicket, but he was uncertain against Sami, and suckered by some fine field placing from Latif, who removed his slips and gleefully took the catch as Vaughan (27) attempted to run the ball through the gap (106 for 4).
Troughton managed his first boundary in international cricket, a sweetly timed push through the covers off Gul, but when he became the third wicket of the innings (96 for 3), the run-rate collapsed dramatically. Flintoff needed just four balls to club his first boundary, but required another 10 overs to double his tally of fours, a leg-stump long-hop from Gul that was deservedly bludgeoned to long leg. He followed that with a volley of boundaries, but when Abdul Razzaq had him caught at midwicket for 39, the innings was beyond repair.
Clarke was bowled behind his legs for a second-ball duck, exposing all three stumps as he attempted a sweep, and Chris Read flopped down on one knee to hoist a simple catch to Imran on the deep-midwicket boundary (164 for 7). Ashley Giles was frazzled by Sami, who roughed him up with a 90mph over before running him out with a shy from point in Shoaib's next over (169 for 8), and only a composed 33 from McGrath could prevent a complete meltdown. Against more experienced opposition, England might never have come close to defending a total of 204 for 9. But had they been more experienced themselves, they might not have needed to.