Cricket: Franks and Bulbeck halt breakneck Pakistan

Pakistan Under-19 276 England Under-19 38-0
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IT MAY be assumed that stern words were spoken in the Pakistan dressing- room yesterday lunchtime, at which point the visiting batsmen had recovered from 89 for 6 to 122 without further loss. The young Pakistanis were infected with a virus that has been running around the county circuit lately, characterised by a total inability to build an innings. It causes the batsman to suffer from a conviction that, since dismissal must be imminent, a big-batted hoick is the only response to the bowling. But the disease was far less apparent in the afternoon.

Matt Bulbeck, who has come almost from nowhere to regular Somerset first- team cricket in half a season, saw his first three overs go for 33 runs before England, in particular the brisk Essex bowler Jamie Grove, began to clip away at batting that bore no relation to the four-day status of the match.

Bulbeck himself atoned for his wild start with a trio of wickets, but after lunch he was clearly bowling in some discomfort. Since he has only just returned after rib injury one might wonder to what extent a county rejoices when one of their youngsters is honoured at this level. The players themselves, if fighting to hold a senior place, must regard Under-19 selection with mixed feelings, though for those who spent most of their summer in the second XI the advantages are clear. Certainly Under-19 cricket is gaining in status under NatWest's sponsorship.

The Pakistan tour got off to a soggy start at Harrogate where the first- day international was abandoned, though not before Essex's Stephen Peters had made 78. Pakistan dominated the second one-dayer, but then an undefeated 62 by skipper Owais Shah, of Middlesex, (ironically Pakistan-born) enabled England to finish the one-day series all square.

In the first Test at Worcester, Shah made 96 in the first innings, while the quick Irfan Fazil, who runs in like Waqar Younis, took six wickets. Although Pakistan had a first-innings lead, substantial knocks by Kent's Robert Key, Shah and Peters gave England something to bowl at, and the home side brought a 1-0 lead here for the second of three Tests thanks to Northamptonshire's Graeme Swann, whose off-breaks took 6 for 46.

Yesterday Paul Franks, of Nottinghamshire, had the most impressive tally in bowling out Pakistan, while from the Pavilion Bulbeck reported a back strain unrelated to his recent injury. That the visitors were able to bat until tea was due to diligent work for the seventh wicket by Imran Nazir and Shoaib Malik, who added 167 in 39 overs. Both enjoyed reprieves, however, and Key will have few easier slip chances than the one he dropped when Shoaib snicked Sussex's medium-paceman Giles Haywood's third ball.

Both batsmen perished in turn, giving Key and Essex's Ian Flanagan a possible 36 overs in fading light. The left-handed Flanagan clipped Irfan to the point boundary to launch the innings, but when the fourth scoreboard light beamed out at five o'clock, the score on a steady 38, England accepted an invitation to leave the field. A cloudy evening restored British normality to a sometimes breakneck day.