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The Willow Talk by AK: Day 1, Test 2: Pakistan vs England

Monday, December 05, 2005

Day 1, Test 2: Pakistan vs England

Originally published on December 20, 2005

The elegance of Yousuf, the dependability of Inzamam, and the ferocity of Afridi, is all a Pakistani cricket lover needs to witness when Pakistan is batting in an international match. And witness they did. The Big Three combined for 225 runs together, as Pakistan seized the initiative on the first day of the second test match in Faisalabad, by ending it well-placed on 300-4.

The morning started as Pakistan won the toss and chose to bat first on a typical sub-continental track, devoid of grass and offering little assistance for pace and bounce. The hosts made two changes as they brought back popular all-rounder Shahid Afridi and fast-bowler Rana Naved-ul-Hasan in place of Hasan Raza and the reported Shabbir Ahmed. England just made the solitary change as Michael Vaughan, not 100% fit in his own words, decided to risk himself in what is an extremely crucial match for the visitors. England has won six test series on the trot and would not like any result less then a win in this match.

Pakistan started the morning briskly, as Shoaib Malik and Salman Butt played their strokes freely all over the park in front of a vociferous capacity crowd in Iqbal Stadium. As a result, Giles was quickly introduced into the attack, with Vaughan hoping his ace spinner will break the tempo of the confident start by the hosts. That was not to be as Giles was knocked out of the park for a six each in his first two overs by Malik and Butt.

It was Steve Harmison, however, who gave England the first success by removing Salman Butt as he tried to drive a ball angling away from him, only to be caught behind for 26. Younis Khan came and went in unimpressive fashion as he Flintoff delivery to midwicket. Pakistan was 63 for 2. In came Mohammed Yousuf, unconvincing in Multan and batting with a chip on his shoulder with something to prove yet again. He looked at ease on a pitch which by now lost whatever little moisture it possessed. But it was about time for another wicket to fall on another loose stroke as Shoaib Malik played an airy cover drive only to be stunningly caught by Andrew Flintoff in the cover region.

By this time Pakistan was 73 for 3, and it was once again up to the old guard to provide Pakistan with a solid platform for the likes of Afridi and Akmal to cut loose. A top-quality contest between bat and ball was to follow the lunch interval, as Flintoff and co. kept the pressure on the two seasoned campaigners by following the age-old mantra of line and length to perfection. The pacers bowlers a host of full-pitched deliveries on middle stump to both the batsman, knowing that both are typical slow-starters and lazy on reflexes early on in their innings.

There were some very loud shouts for lbw. And at least once each, were very lucky to be adjudged not-out by the umpires who all-in-all did a fantastic job on a pressure-filled first day. But after some nervous moments early on, it was all Pakistan as the two batsmen played some delightful drives and late-cuts off spinners and fast bowlers alike.

Yousuf was typically stylish caressing nine boundaries as he notched up a well-crafted fifty. Inzamam, on the other hand, played the sheet anchor’s role to perfection. The two guided Pakistan to tea as Pakistan looked well-placed at 189/3. The afternoon session was thankless and frustrating for England, as they toiled hard on a perfect batting deck. An added cause of frustration was the lack of any lbw shouts going in their favor, and some half-chances that went begging. Inzamam edged one of Flintoff’s deliveries to Strauss, and it fell despairingly close to being snapped as it felt just inches short. A second chance of Mathew Hoggard went down as Geraint Jones, standing up to Hoggard, failed to clasp on a difficult leg-side chance.

Immediately after tea, England cracked the bulging Inzamam-Yousuf partnership by sending Yousuf back to the pavilion in controversial fashion. Ian Bell bowled a full-pitched delivery as Yousuf played straight on only for Bell to dive to his right to take a brilliant-looking catch. Yousuf had his doubts but Simon Taufel was confident enough and did not find it necessary to refer it to the third umpire. However, replays showed that while Bell had the ball cleanly in his hands, the ball touched the ground as Bell dived on the pitch. Yousuf was slow to walk back but the decision was already be made. It would be interesting to see how the match referee reacts to this. In the not-so-recent-past Rashid Latif, the former Pakistani was banned for a similar offense in a game against Bangladesh.

Shahid Afridi then walked onto the pitch, received by a huge roar from the local crowd. The start was typical Afridisque, as he greeted Ian Bell with three consecutive boundaries. The party had just started as the Pathan took the English attack to the cleaners. He danced down the wicket, stood tall and swept savagely on his way to another enterprising half-century. England will be ruing the fact that their captain, not renowned for his catching, dropped a sitter when Afridi was on 35.

Pakistan batsmen are notoriously slow starters, and it is imperative for these two to play throughout the morning session. England, on the flip side, will have to devise a plan to end the madness of Afridi and the solidity of Inzamam, before they push England out of contention to win the game.

© Adeel Khan


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