An unbeaten century by Salim Malik in the third Test here yesterday has given Pakistan a chance of crowning this series with a second win.
In his 90th Test, Salim ensured his side a commanding lead of 195. It was the 14th century of his career and the first since accusations of bribery and match rigging first surfaced 15 months ago, when three Australian Test players claimed he had offered them substantial sums of money to throw matches.
Salim, who was captain of Pakistan at the time, has always denied the claims and although he was stripped of the captaincy, the judge investigating found he had no case to answer after his accusers - the batsmen Mark Waugh and the spin bowlers Shane Warne and Tim May - refused to go to Pakistan to assist the inquiry.
Until yesterday, his form - which began to suffer while the blanket of suspicion lay over him - had not really picked up. But given a tiring attack here, that had been savagely mauled on the previous two days, he rediscovered both the placement and timing that had deserted him for most of this tour.
His innings was a crafty mix of caution and bludgeon that lulled England's already shell-shocked bowlers. The combination of a resolute forward defence being followed by a flashing square drive, was similar to finding a green chilli amongst a bag of pistachio nuts.
With only 10 boundaries to Salim's name, England had a better day with the ball. Chris Lewis, whose late arrival to the ground saw him dropped from England's one-day squad, bowled genuinely quickly and he more than once beat Wasim Akram for pace.
He also gave a brilliant display in the field, running out Asif Mujtaba with an inch-perfect throw to the wicketkeeper from deep third man, even when the second run had always seemed a perfectly reasonable proposal. It is brilliance like this that encapsulates the frustration successive captains have felt with Lewis, whose career has followed a dangerous path of seduction without consummation. It is a path that Atherton and his fellow selectors will no doubt seed over with new talent.
Talent presumably such as Robert Croft, Glamorgan's 26-year-old off- spinner, whose unfussily mature debut brought him two wickets, including that of the Pakistan captain, who was neatly stumped by Alec Stewart as he charged and missed a teasing delivery. With Ian Salisbury bowling Moin Khan with a wrong 'un and Alan Mullally finishing with a well deserved 3 for 97, England prevented Pakistan from bolting too quickly out of sight.
The home side can still save this match and both Atherton and Stewart, who kept tidily all innings, negotiated a testing evening session, one in which Wasim, in particular, generated real pace. Both batsmen had close encounters of the jugular kind, as Wasim changed his angle. One perfectly aimed bouncer left Atherton with nowhere to go and the batsman was fortunate that it went straight to ground after striking his top hand.
On a pitch that appears to be wearing and quickening by the session, the England captain's assertion that his side are better at drawing games these days, is one that is bound to be sorely tested today.Reuse content