Cricket / Fifth Test: England swing by a thread

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England . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .207 and 137-5

Pakistan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .380

THERE IS A CASE to be solved at the Oval: that of England's Disappearing Batting. Hercule Poirot, being a foreigner, could not be expected to understand the intricacies involved. We must therefore send for Miss Marple, who has at least glanced idly now and then at her village team of St Mary Mead.

The facts in the Fifth Cornhill Test are these: England in two innings, in hot cloudless weather and on an unflawed pitch, have scored 207 all out and 137 for 5, without batting badly. No batsman on either side has yet got beyond 60, and this is at The Oval, the home of high scoring, not Headingley, even if the pitch here is grassier and less polished than usual.

The first question for Miss Marple to address is how England's batting collapsed on the first evening, when the ball swung as bizarrely as if it had a mind of its own.

In the second innings, when England went in again 173 runs behind, it was the new ball which did damage in the hands of Waqar Younis, as he took four wickets in his first 8 overs. But first time round it was a ball 70 overs old that undermined England and effectively lost them this match and series.

Miss Marple takes the next train up to town and a cab to Kennington. There the chief inspector at the Yard in charge of this case tells her that the main item of evidence has disappeared. The match ball used on Thursday was taken away that same evening by the chief executive of the TCCB, Alan Smith.

'Oh, really, inspector?' breathes Miss Marple. Gently, the inspector then explains that doctoring the ball is as old as the ball itself. Hair oil by the pint, lip salve by the tube have, in the course of time, been anointed on the ball while many an old bottle top has found new life in a player's pocket. Law 42 on Unfair Play explicitly states that nothing may alter the condition of the ball except polishing; but practice is, and always has been, something else.

English bowlers, of course, seldom had occasion to tamper with the ball in the 1980s; they had no need, given thick-seamed balls and lush green pitches and outfields to preserve the shine on one side.

However, the Pakistanis, on pitches akin to concrete, have had to develop ball technology; and Sarfraz Nawaz and Imran Khan, followed by their disciples, have developed a whole new ball game.

While still shining one side, the Pakistanis have learnt to soak the rougher half with sweat and - less so now - with spit, thus making it heavier and travelling through the air more slowly.

England's players are privately convinced that some other ingredient is involved as the ball ages and would like Miss Marple to discover something untoward. The ball, however, has been regularly checked by the umpires, and by the match referee at every interval.

Even so, whatever the causes, the highest degree of skill is still required to produce sharp swing at high pace. Waqar and Wasim Akram have made the ball veer sideways when ragged; but with the same ball Aqib Javed has done no more than an English seamer.

While Miss Marple was busily working on this question yesterday morning, England took the six outstanding Pakistani wickets for 105 more runs. They resorted to something less subtle than late swing in the unrestrained pace of Devon Malcolm.

With the second new ball on a misty morning Malcolm took two wickets in an hour-long spell, but could find little support, save for the fielding of Robin Smith, who ran out Asif Mujtaba from square- leg with a direct hit at the bowler's end.

Of the six Pakistani innings between 40 and 60, the most stylish was by Rashid Latif on his debut. England's bowling was not at its most intelligent in allowing him so much room outside off-stump.

Still, this new keeper showed the touch of a specialist batsman in two strokes: the first an 'inside- out' off drive when he went down the pitch to Tufnell, the second a whip through midwicket, a la Richards.

The second question for Miss Marple came half an hour after lunch when England's second innings started. Under a sky now cloudless, Waqar from the Vauxhall End dismissed Alec Stewart in his first over, Mike Atherton in his third, Graham Gooch in his fifth and David Gower in his sixth - with a brand new ball.

For the first time this series Waqar produced frequent outswing, never extreme but the more effective for not being so, especially when England's batsmen have been led to expect the in- swinger.

As so often, the dismissal precipitating a collapse involved a debated decision: the ball which dismissed Stewart no more than held a leg-stump line, and would have been bail-height. Thereafter, Miss Marple would have to conclude, it was indisputable skill.

Atherton, after surviving a fine appeal to an in-swinger first ball, edged an out-swinger. Gooch, playing rather away from his body, edged to second slip where Aamir Sohail, very low to his natural left side, completed Pakistan's first slip catch since Old Trafford: such has been the straightness of their bowling.

Then Gower, led to expect that the ball would swing away from him, was bowled off-stump, shouldering arms, as it held its line instead. Thereafter Ramprakash appeared the victim of the sort of ill-luck which dogs a side that is losing; and Smith grew visibly in his dealings with Mushtaq Ahmed, waiting for the ball to arrive, not lunging firm-fisted as he has done until now. To have survived 144 minutes until today was an important step in Smith's learning process. The Pakistanis are sure to win this series, however, as they deserve to. While England may have the marginally stronger batting, Pakistan's bowling is so superior that 2-1 will hardly be a fair reflection.

Waqar yesterday bowled his best of the series for having found his outswinger, while Mushtaq is no less than Abdul Qadir in his leg break and his googly, lacking only that ball which skids through for leg-before. If Omar Khayyam in his garden wanted to see bowling to go with his book of verse and glass of wine, perhaps in the company of Miss Marple, he could do worse than this attack.

THE OVAL SCOREBOARD

(England won toss)

ENGLAND - First Innings 207 (M A Atherton 60; Wasim Akram 6-67).

PAKISTAN - First Innings

(Overnight: 275 for 4)

Salim Malik b Malcolm. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .40

(132 min, 94 balls, 5 fours)

Asif Mujtaba run out (Smith) . . . . . . . . . . . . . .50

(196 min, 165 balls, 5 fours)

Wasim Akram c Stewart b Malcolm . . . . . . . . . . . .7

(21 min, 9 balls, 1 four)

Rashid Latif c Smith b Mallender. . . . . . . . . .50

(114 min, 87 balls, 6 fours)

Waqar Younis c Gooch b Malcolm. . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

(6 min, 3 balls, 1 four)

Mushtaq Ahmed c Lewis b Mallender. . . . . . . . . . .9

(27 min, 22 balls, 2 fours)

Aqib Javed not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

(12 min, 4 balls)

Extras (b2 lb6 w4 nb24). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36

Total (542 min, 127.5 overs). . . . . . . . . . . . . .380

Fall: 1-64 (Ramiz), 2-86 (Sohail), 3-197 (Javed), 4-214 (Shoaib), 5-278 (Salim), 6-292 (Wasim),7-332 (Mujtaba), 8-342 (Waqar), 9-359 (Mushtaq), 10-380 (Rashid).

Bowling: Mallender 28.5-6-93-2 (nb12) (9-1-34-0 4-1- 15-0 6-1-16-0 7-2-15-0 2.5-1-13-2); Malcolm 29-6-94-5 (nb3, w2) (2-0-11-0 7-2-18-2 4-1-15-0 11-2-30-2 5-1-20- 1); Lewis 30-8-70-1 (nb2, w1) (5-2-10-0 8-1-13-0 9-2-34- 1 5-1-10-0 3-2-3-0); Tufnell 34-9-87-1 (nb6) (8-2-26-0 3-1-11-0 17-6-24-1 3-0-10-0 1-0-7-0 2-0-9-0); Pringle 6- 0-28-0 (nb2) (3-0-21-0 3-0-7-0).

Progress: Day 1: Close 16-0 (Sohail 9, Ramiz 7) 5 overs. Day 2: 50: 74 min, 16.5 overs. 100: 137 min, 30 overs. Lunch 100 for 2 (Shoaib 13, Javed 8) 31 overs. 150: 207 min, 45.5 overs. Tea: 189 for 2 (Shoaib 52, Javed 51) 59 overs. 200: 279 min, 63.2 overs. 250: 350 min, 83.1 overs. Close: 275-4 (Salim 38, Mujtaba 31) 95 overs. Day 3: New ball: 275 for 4 after 95.3 overs. 300: 437 min, 104.3 overs. 350: 511 min, 121.1 overs. Lunch: 353 for 8 (Rashid 30, Mushtaq 8) 123 overs. Innings closed: 2.05pm.

Shoaib 50: 152 min, 113 balls, 5 fours.

Javed 50: 126 min, 87 balls, 8 fours.

Mujtaba 50: 192 min, 164 balls, 5 fours.

Rashid 50: 113 min, 85 balls, 6 fours.

ENGLAND - Second Innings

*G A Gooch c Sohail b Waqar. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24

(87 min, 71 balls, 3 fours)

A J Stewart lbw b Waqar. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8

(49 min, 25 balls, 2 fours)

M A Atherton c Rashid b Waqar . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

(15 min, 9 balls, 1 four)

R A Smith not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .59

(146 min, 118 balls, 6 fours)

D I Gower b Waqar. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

(7 min, 6 balls)

M R Ramprakash c Mujtaba b Mushtaq. . . . . . . .17

(44 min, 39 balls, 3 fours)

C C Lewis not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8

(72 mins, 47 balls)

Extras (b1,lb7,nb8). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16

Total (for 5, 214 min, 51 overs). . . . . . . . .137

Fall: 1-29 (Stewart), 2-47 (Atherton), 3-55 (Gooch), 4-59 (Gower), 5-92 (Ramprakash).

Bowling: Wasim 11-2-19-0 (nb6) (5-1-10-0 6-1-9-0); Aqib 9-2-25-0 (nb2) (6-1-19-0 3-1-6-0); Waqar 12-1-44- 4 (nb1) (8-0-31-4 4-1-13-0); Mushtaq 18-5-35-1 (17-5- 34-1 1-0-1-0); Sohail 1-0-6-0 (one spell).

Progress: Day 3: 50: 70 min, 14.3 overs. Tea: 55 for 3 (Smith 7) 18.5 overs. 100: 154 min, 35.2 overs.

Smith 50: 130 min, 101 balls, 5 fours.

Umpires: H D Bird and D R Shepherd.

(Photograph omitted)

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