First Cornhill Test


Colin Bateman

At Birmingham, June 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Drawn. Toss: England. The game was a disappointing start to a series which promised so much, but not one without its controversy, emotion and memorable moments of cricket. The opening two days were saturated by rain, and the last three drowned in runs as England and Pakistan warily squared up, threw a couple of jabs and then retreated with honours even.

The central story of the Edgbaston Test unfurled before a ball had been bowled. Of the successful England side which finished the series in New Zealand, Tufnell, Lawrence and Reeve were all recovering from injury or illness. Without the muscle of Lawrence or the guile of Tufnell, the bowling attack looked frighteningly bland, so England's squad included the uncapped pair, Munton and Salisbury, and Ramprakash, who was recalled to bolster the batting. Attention focused on Salisbury. The 22-year-old Sussex player was poised to become England's first specialist leg-spinner since Robin Hobbs in 1971. On the eve of the Test, Gooch inspected the newly laid, untried Edgbaston pitch and announced that Salisbury would play. On Thursday morning, less than half an hour before he would have handed in his team-sheet, the rain arrived. By the time play was possible mid-way through the second day, Gooch, wary of dampness in the pitch and the atmosphere, had to tell Salisbury the team had been revised; England were playing safe with the extra batsman, Ramprakash.

Salisbury's omission was a bad decision, as Gooch later conceded. When play did start on Friday the conditions counted for nothing. Gooch put Pakistan in, but only two deliveries were possible and three runs scored before the umpires offered the light. On Thursday, refunds were offered to 8,500 ticket-holders, but on Friday there was no compensation for 15,000, under the Test and County Cricket Board's rules, because there had been play - however brief. Angry supporters, who had paid up to £26, gathered outside the pavilion while officials were ushered out of a side door. The Board's offer to Friday's ticket-holders of free entry on the last day of a match already doomed did nothing to mollify the protesters. (Later in the year, a Small Claims Court said the Board had been unfair to people who could not have read the conditions on the tickets before they brought them.)

The remaining three days became little more than high-class batting practice on a soulless wicket; 902 runs were scored while 11 wickets fell, as frustrated bowlers ran in with no hope and little heart. In contrast to England, Pakistan introduced three new caps: fluent left-handed opener Aamir Sohail, Inzamam-Ul-Haq, the powerfully built and exciting middle-order batsman, and Ata-Ur-Rehman, a teenage pace bowler of much promise, who had been summoned from Pakistan as cover for the injured Wasim Akram. But it was the old firm of Javed Miandad and Salim Malik who dominated the innings and the English bowlers. Together they scored 322, a record for any wicket between the countries. Defreitas had given England false hope by reducing Pakistan to 110 for three shortly after lunch, but Miandad and Malik soon brought home reality. Malik batted with his usual calm and grace for his highest score in Tests, while Miandad played the artful dodger and pocketed runs at will to reach his 23rd Test century. When 14 he overtook G. Boycott as Test cricket's fourth most prolific run-scorer. Gooch tried seven bowlers but his only alternative to seam was Hick's steady off-spin. The cause was not aided by a spate of dropped chances.

With the first day washed out, the follow-on margin was reduced from 200 runs to 150, and Miandad's declaration at 446 for four left England needing 297 to avoid any embarrassment. They achieved their target comfortably and in some style, Pakistan, also employing seven bowlers had more variety, but no one could coax life from such a pitch. Stewart took greatest advantage. Having established himself as Gooch's new opening partner on the winter tour, he opened the series with his most convincing Test innings to date. With sublime timing he hit 31 boundaries in 190 runs, his fourth century in his last five Tests, and by far his largest. When he was third, out after nine minutes under six hours, England were already safe. Smith, who had added 227 with Stewart, pushed on to his seventh Test century - all scored in England- but no other batsman really seized his chance. Hick played well for his maiden fifty on his eighth Test, but missed out on the big score which would have eased his nerves; Ramprakash, also in need of runs, fell second ball to Rehman who had evidently not been told the game was dead and still tore in enthusiastically, as if it could somehow be transformed. He was rewarded with three wickets in five overs before a thunderstorm brought an end. The Test was the first in England to have a reference to support the umpires: former Australian batsman Bob Cowper had little to do except stay awake.

Man of the Match: A. J. Stewart.

Attendance: 51,377; receipts £766,668.

© John Wisden & Co