Cricket: England batsmen bow out in style

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Pakistan 254-5 England 255-4; England win by 6 wkts

WHOEVER is eventually fingernailed for roughing up the ball at Lord's, it was a pretty straightforward business identifying yesterday's culprits. England's batsmen launched it so often into the boundary boards, and on one occasion on to a sponsor's balcony, that an ICC referee might have mistaken it for a badly mauled Scotch egg.

In its way, England's victory here was as emphatic as their 198-run stroll at Trent Bridge. Given that one-day games can be almost humdrum if they fail to boil down to the final over, knocking off a target of 255 with six wickets and 68 balls to spare represents a thrashing of monumental proportions. If Pakistan were more comfortable winners of the Test series than 2-1 suggests, then England were not at all flattered by a 4-1 margin in this event.

It was a nice send-off for Micky Stewart, who retired last night after six years as England's team manager, and a warm gesture from Lancashire to mark it with a present. Whether a framed picture of Old Trafford qualifies as just what he always wanted is perhaps open to doubt, but England won so quickly yesterday that the ground's most symbolic image - rain spattering down on the covers - came just too late to spoil the finish.

If the Test and County Cricket Board had wanted to make an end-of-season presentation to the players, it could have given them a framed picture of a motorway traffic jam. To have scheduled the final three matches in the Midlands, the south and the north, with the south in the middle, was utterly crass and after landing them an awful journey up from Lord's, they were fortunate that the teams performed with the energy they did.

There was less evidence of animation from the International Cricket Council, which has thus far reacted to the scuffed-up ball incident at Lord's by brushing it under the carpet. The most positive statement issued by the ICC yesterday came from its secretary, Lt-Col John Stephenson, who said: 'We are determined to stamp out this sort of thing.' Unfortunately, he then rather spoiled this get-tough pronouncement by adding: 'But we don't really know how.'

This is a curious thing to say when the ICC is empowered to administer fines and/or suspension, but the feeling is that there has been so much acrimony during the summer already that it would much prefer the issue to quietly die a death. It is even rumoured that the Foreign Office has been badgering it not to sour relations.

On the other hand, Khalid Mahmood, the Pakistani tour manager, decided yesterday to blame it all on the press, while Intikhab Alam, the team manager, was contradicting himself. Having originally confirmed, albeit with possible confusion over the question, that Law 42 (unfair play) had been invoked, he was claiming yesterday that the umpires had acted under Law 5 - replacing a ball accidentally damaged.

Mahmood issued a statement saying that press 'insinuations' were 'distortions of facts and totally unfounded and speculative in nature. Such press stories represent another false and scurrilous attack on the integrity, conduct and reputation of the Pakistani cricket team.' The ICC, which could clear up the entire business in about a dozen words, has hinted at a statement today, and, while we are on the subject of reputations, it will doubtless make it as clear as mud.

Javed Miandad and Salim Malik were both missing from the Pakistan side, and, in the circumstances, the tourists probably did well to score 254 even on such a good batting pitch as this one. Aamir Sohail, who made 205 on this ground in the Test match, rattled up an entertaining 87 yesterday, so perhaps the picture of Old Trafford would have gone better on Aamir's mantelpiece than Stewart's.

The left-hander usually plays as though it is a one-day international, whether it is one or not, and he required a couple of dropped catches to assist him in this innings. The first one, a simple chance to Allan Lamb at slip, would have given Dominic Cork his first international wicket with his fourth delivery.

Cork eventually got it with the third ball of his final over, and the Derbyshire bowler did nothing but enhance his prospects of a tour place with the senior party to India this winter. He bowled a tight length, swung the ball, and the fact that he bowled his final two overs at the end of the innings, and produced eight dot balls out of 12, suggests a sound temperament.

Pakistan's other major innings was played by Inzamam-ul-Haq, whose tour has otherwise not lived up to expectations, but who looked the genuine article here. Exhilarating though his 75 runs were, however, England's batting almost made him look like a plodder.

Graham Gooch, back after his wrist injury, and Alec Stewart, tore into Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis with such a purpose that England had 41 runs on the board after four overs. The fourth, bowled by Waqar to Gooch, went for no less than 17, including two hooks and two cuts for four.

Stewart and Gooch were out shortly before tea, both perishing giving Aamir's left-arm spin the charge, and when Waqar's pace saw off Allan Lamb and Neil Fairbrother in quick succession after the interval, Pakistan were suddenly back in the game.

Just as abruptly, they were back out of it. Robin Smith played brilliantly for his 85 not out, but Graeme Hick suffered nothing by comparison as they finished the game with a stand of 96 in 14 overs.

Hick struck two enormous on-side sixes off Mushtaq Ahmed, and the second was returned only after the match ball had been inspected by the inhabitants of one of the Warwick Road-end sponsored boxes. If one side of the ball was found to contain suspicious quantities of strawberry and cocktail stick, the ICC will shortly be launching a fearless investigation.

(Photograph omitted)