First Test Match


Toss: Zimbabwe
Test debuts: Azam Khan, Shahid Nazir.

Test cricket's newest venue, the 77th overall and the 16th in Pakistan, had been reconstructed to international standards so recently that it had never even staged a first-class match before this. Now it was graced by a remarkable innings from Wasim Akram. His unbeaten 257, in eight hours ten minutes and 363 balls, was the highest score by a No. 8 in Tests and included 12 sixes, the most in a Test innings, as well as 22 fours. Wally Hammond's record of ten sixes had stood since 1932-33, when he scored 336 not out in Auckland. Wasim broke another record of similar vintage with the help of Saqlain Mushtaq: their stand of 313 in 110 overs was the highest for the eighth wicket in Tests, beating 246 by Les Ames and Gubby Allen, for England against New Zealand, in 1931.

Wasim and Saqlain combined at 237 for seven, trailing Zimbabwe by 138, but what looked likely to be a sizable first-innings deficit was transformed into a lead of 178. Bad light on the fourth evening and rain next morning may well have cost Pakistan victory, but what really stymied them was the pitch. Houghton described it as the slowest he had seen: it offered no bounce and virtually no movement off the seam. Wasim and Waqar Younis got negligible reverse swing from the locally made Grays balls, which they strongly criticised. Debutant Shahid Nazir found some swing early on, and, with five wickets in the innings, was largely responsible for Zimbabwe slipping to 142 for six. Grant Flower and Paul Strang staged a rescue act, adding 131: Flower reached his second Test hundred, making regular use of his trademark off-drive. Strang also drove well and had just passed his second Test fifty when his brother Bryan joined him, to share a stand of 87 and keep him company until he was one short of a maiden hundred. Paul finished with 106 not out, in five hours, though he was dropped three times.

Some ill-advised shots from the top order left Pakistan an unstable 183 six. Wasim was appalled and immediately got his head down. He added 54 with Moin Khan, before Paul Strang dismissed Moin to become the 18th player to score a hundred and take five wickets in an innings in the same Test - and the first since Wasim himself in 1989-90. Meanwhile, Wasim was playing with the sort of application of which few thought him capable. He gave one chance, on 145. Chiefly, he faced the spin of Strang and Andrew Whittall, playing them almost entirely from the crease. When the ball was flighted or overpitched, he drove powerfully and cleanly. Most of his 12 sixes went over the straight boundaries, 71 metres away. Saqlain willed himself to survive for seven hours and contributed 79.

Zimbabwe's task of batting out the final day eased when Wasim collided with a boundary board and was unable to bowl more than five overs. With the wicket turning slowly, off-spinner Saqlain bowled 40 overs, but pitched too wide too often; the injured Mushtaq Ahmed was badly missed. Again, Houghton and Grant Flower played key innings, and Andy Flower used up three hours in scoring 18.

Man of the Match: Wasim Akram.

Close of play: First day, Zimbabwe 240-6 (G. W. Flower 98*, P. A. Strang 37*); Second day, Pakistan 189-6 (Moin Khan 3*, Wasim Akram 5*); Third day, Pakistan 395-7 (Wasim Akram 144*, Saqlain Mushtaq 37*); Fourth day, Zimbabwe 38-1 (G. W. Flower 11*, A. D. R. Campbell 14*).

© John Wisden & Co