HAVING taken out the insurance policy of seven specialist batsmen for the fourth Test here, England are showing precious little inclination to make a claim. At the current rate of progress, England's No 7 is scheduled to emerge shortly before lunchtime on Monday with the scoreboard reading 840 for 5.
England yesterday made significant progress towards making this series 1-1 with one to play, and while this has involved no little skill and effort, luck has also played a significant role. In particular, Graham Gooch's aversion to losing at anything may now be subject to minor reappraisal when he thinks back to Thursday morning's toss.
It is a tradition among recent England captain's to cock a deaf 'un to advice offered by Headingley's groundsman, and when Keith Boyce went into print on Wednesday with the opinion that it would be a good idea to bowl first, it might have been the clincher for Gooch's inclination to do the opposite.
Fortunately for England, Javed Miandad not only shared the same view, but he also won the toss, and after Pakistan collapsed to Gooch's popgun army under Thursday's grey skies, the sun came out yesterday to embrace England's batsmen.
The ball barely swung, rarely seamed, and as the likes of Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram are not particularly well schooled in the art of purveying gentle dobbers on to a nagging length, and Mushtaq Ahmed's leg spin was largely negated by the sort of bounce you would expect from a scotch egg landing in a bowl of porridge, England seized their opportunity.
It took them another hour to pick up Pakistan's last two wickets, long enough, apparently, for Alec Stewart to be excused opening batsman duty on the grounds of wicketkeeping fatigue. This was also a stroke of good fortune, in that, for all Stewart's glove-like fitting into the role, it reunited the old (and arguably the best) firm of Gooch and Michael Atherton.
Atherton is better suited to go in first in a Test match than first wicket down, and he has seldom occupied any other position - even when England first picked him, in 1987, at No 3. In his first Test innings he came in after four balls, and after three innings, the best looking scoreboard he had ever walked out to read 5 for 1.
When he walked back yesterday, having just had his off stump clipped by Wasim, the scoreboard read 168 for 1, and at a venue where Pakistan's first-innings total might not have been regarded as seriously under par, Gooch and Atherton had taken England to within 30 runs of a first-innings lead.
Gooch, who shares the dubious distinction with Atherton of opening his Test career with a duck, is closing in on his his 17th Test match century (nine of which have come in the last two years) and England resume today leading by 19 with nine wickets in hand. Defeat is unthinkable, and Pakistan's fragile morale has been sufficiently punctured to make victory probable.
In statistical terms, Gooch and Atherton's average of around 70 runs per outing has only been bettered by two other opening pairings in Tests - Hobbs and Sutcliffe, and Rae and Stollmeyer. In terms of the number of partners he has got through since the late 1970s, there can scarcely have been a more promiscuous opener than Gooch, and, family man that he is, it is about time he settled down.
Pakistan, on the other hand, threw up their hands in anguish at so many rejected lbw appeals that Clyde Walcott, the International Cricket Council referee, must have been in a semi-permanent sweat. However, apart from an assortment of frustrated gestures at the giant video screen (its reception is such that it could barely be used in evidence against a batsman having parted company with all three stumps) the tourists maintained their discipline rather better than Mike Gatting's England team in similar circumstances in 1987.
Atherton, twice, and Robin Smith, were both within fagpaper width of being given out lbw, and England's long-standing private complaint of losing out on most of the marginal decisions in their own country did not hold a great deal of water yesterday.
Pakistan's 198 was within one run of England's first-innings total when they beat the West Indies here last summer, but, as was the case then, the opposition did not have the right kind of attack for Headingley. On a two-an-over, chisel them out in blood and sweat kind of pitch, Gooch and Atherton set off so positively that they had 50 on the board in 62 balls. Pakistan got there in 132.
The century partnership, their seventh in 24 outings together, was posted in the 28th over, and with Pakistan's bowlers finding more swing as the ball got older, so the scoring rate gradually diminished.
Atherton, who came into this match with 91 runs from his previous six innings, finally missed a straightish ball from Wasim, but Gooch resumes today only seven runs short of his first three-figure score against Pakistan. A late starter in terms of world-class batting, he should be a fair old player by the time he's 50.
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