AS EVER, the chief executive of the Test and County Cricket Board picked his words carefully. 'We set great store by playing standards,' A C Smith said at a mid-afternoon press conference, in a thinly veiled snort at Zimbabwe's credentials for election to Test playing status at next week's ICC meeting. As masterpieces of bad timing go, it was very high class.
On the other side of the press box window, England's bowling was being systematically dismembered by Pakistan's batsmen - a carnage even more excruciating than Trent Bridge 1989, when Geoff Marsh and Mark Taylor put on 302 on the opening day.
Pakistan rattled up a first-day total of 388 for 3 and even at this early stage, England can have no higher ambitions than a draw. Their one consolation is that Pakistan have a tendency to fritter away potential totals of 1,000. At The Oval in 1987, they collapsed from 573 for 4 to 708 all out.
It is hard to believe now that Javed Miandad pondered long and hard about whether to bat when he won the toss. The pitch looked so full of bounce that the temptation to unleash Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis straight away must have been almost unbearable, but this pair will hardly be a less formidable proposition when England go out to bat, knackered, dispirited, and doubtless needing something like 500 to avoid the follow-on.
England's bowling, particularly when Graham Gooch opted for Tim Munton at the expense of Derek Pringle, looked fag-paper thin, and if there was bounce in the pitch, it was nothing compared with the bounce off the advertising boards. Gary Lineker was up on the committee balcony, doubtless reflecting that this was one of those occasions on which an England captain would have been delighted to have been substituted.
David Gower, who shares Lineker's agent, might merely have been reflecting how nice it was not to be captain at all. Like Gower in 1989, Gooch could not make silk purses out of sow's ears, and the only time England gained a modicum of control was when the skipper came on for a trundle himself.
At 208 for 1 from only 41 overs, Gooch probably felt there was little option, and his spell of nine overs for 13 runs put some of the other dross into perspective. Devon Malcolm and Chris Lewis were uncannily accurate with the wide half-volley, Ian Salisbury's first exposure to heavy fire produced a mixture of long hops and full tosses, while Munton merely looked ordinary on a surface far truer than he is used to at Edgbaston.
With the ground two-thirds empty, Pakistan scored almost as many runs as there were spectators, and beautifully though Aamir Sohail played for his 205 in only his third Test, he will not receive any easier pickings if he goes on to play a hundred times. At one point it looked as though Alec Stewart was being brought on to bowl, but although he was merely polishing it for someone else, you would not entirely rule it out today.
Clearly, however, Sohail is something more than a high-class sledger and slogger. His straight driving was of a very high order, and his nerveless temperament took him serenely through the nineties to his maiden century, and then again through the one hundred and nineties to his double century.
He should have been out for 105 when, in the middle of A C's dissertation on high standards, he edged Munton at waist height between wicketkeeper and first slip. Neither Jack Russell nor Graeme Hick offered more than a twitch, and it resulted in another of Sohail's 32 boundaries.
Sohail and Ramiz Raja put on 115 for the first wicket in 23 overs, and even when Ramiz was out shortly before lunch it was in curious circumstances. Lewis went up for an lbw appeal, Russell for a catch behind, and no one quite knew (certainly not Ramiz) what Roy Palmer's first raised finger in a Test match had been for. The latter, apparently.
Like Ramiz, Asif Mutjaba made an effortless half-century before failing to get over a square cut and giving Michael Atherton a catch at cover point, and all three of Pakistan's wickets yesterday were worth more than a century. Sohail was finally out 15 minutes before the close, bowled off stump aiming a weary drive at Lewis.
Javed Miandad, who is more of a nudger and deflector these days, none the less found enough bowling to his liking to flog it around, and in one memorable over from Salisbury, the Pakistani captain struck him for five boundaries. What England's attack requires now is a longish spell from Manchester's weather.
England, who hosted cricket's first three World Cups, are warm favourites to stage the next competition in 1995. The expected rival bid from South Africa has not materialised, and the TCCB's chief executive A C Smith said yesterday that he did not expect one. A final decision does not have to be made until next year.
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