Cricket: Saqlain turns the tide

Surrey 335 and 247-6 Durham 217 and 139 Surrey win by 226 runs Durham
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The Independent Online
IF THE reports emanating from Pakistan yesterday are true - that Saqlain Mushtaq has retired from Test cricket along with seven of his colleagues - then his country's loss is most definitely Surrey's gain. He would neither confirm nor deny the report yesterday, content instead to stay in the dressing-room and contemplate the dozen Durham wickets he had taken in the match to keep Surrey at the top of the County Championship.

His return of 12 for 110 was the best match performance by a Surrey player against the bottom-of-the-table side and his second-innings haul of 7 for 38 was another Surrey best against Durham, whom they have now beaten eight times in eight Championship meetings. It was not a single-handed effort. Much credit has to be given to Ian Salisbury, who wheeled in from the Pavilion End, softening up the batsmen with his leg-spin.

Only one Durham man proved resistant to Saqlain's spell - the opener Jon Lewis. He had batted for three hours in the first innings and this time around extended his tenure to seven hours. Even though he eventually gave up his wicket, it was not to Saqlain but to Salisbury, caught behind as he had been off the same bowler in the first innings. In those four hours at the crease, Lewis failed to reach 50, falling four runs short, which was a pity because he deserved it. In all, Salisbury accounted for five wickets in the match at the economical cost of 91 runs from almost 54 overs, but history will remember Saqlain.

Durham had begun the day needing an improbable 334 runs for victory with two men already back in the dressing-room. The nightwatchman Neil Killeen joined them in the third over of the day, caught behind off Martin Bicknell who bowled well for scant reward throughout the match. Thereafter the stage was Saqlain's. He had every batsman, bar Lewis, bamboozled with his "mystery ball", bowled with an off-break action but turning the other way. They also failed to read the ball that holds up and doesn't deviate, and any number of other tricky deliveries he has up his sleeve.

One or two of the Durham batsmen appeared to be taking guard over the off-stump while others opted for a leg-side approach, apparently trying to neutralise the potency of the Saqlain-Salisbury axis around which this victory revolved. Their efforts were in vain. The mystery delivery, amount of turn, variation in flight and everything else are all worthy of note, but there was one weapon in Saqlain's armoury that they all overlooked - patience.

Throughout the 17 overs he sent down yesterday, not a ripple creased his smiling countenance, no amount of padding away, nicks and streaky boundaries disturbed his outward calm. But it was different with the batsmen. John Morris stepped down the wicket, was beaten in the air and bowled. The former Australian Test batsman David Boon suffered a similar solitary moment of imprudence and did not get a second chance. With players of that calibre falling, there was no hope for the rest of the Durham line-up. Saqlain's loss to Test cricket would be massive. But it would be great to see more of him in English summers.

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