England's ambition menaced by Saqlain

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The Independent Online

England 480-8 dec Pakistan 119-2

England 480-8 dec Pakistan 119-2

In test cricket there are spinners and there are slow bowlers. On the evidence of this Test match so far, Saqlain Mushtaq is in the first category while everyone else is in the second, a classification that does not bode well for England winning their first Test match in Pakistan for 38 years.

Saqlain, who bowled 74 overs, took all eight wickets to fall in England's first innings of 480 for 8. Only two people in history, Jim Laker and Anil Kumble have taken all 10, though England's declaration at lunch put paid to any chances of another spinner joining them.

Yet, perhaps the most remarkable statistic in Saqlain's career-best 8 for 164 was that no one else took a wicket in the other 122 overs. Others came close, with lbw appeals, but with umpire Riazuddin unmoved by fear or favour and Saqlain a near permanent fixture at the end umpired by Darrell Hair, only one man made inroads.

"I don't think about records, I just try to do well for my country," said Saqlain, when asked if he had hoped for all 10. "My finger and shoulder are a bit tired. It's the most overs I've bowled in an innings.

"England played well, but the pitch was slow and they had lots of time to see where the ball goes. We knew that England had got films about our bowling and we were mentally prepared for them to bat well.Although I believe we will draw the match, it will give them a lift. But we'll just have to come up with some new ideas for the next two Tests."

England's problem, despite reducing Pakistan to 119 for 2 by the close of the third day, is that although the batsmen can be justifiably proud of their part, they have no Saqlain to bowl for them.

That is no disgrace for, like Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka, he is a freakish bowler. But when Graeme Hick has more Test wickets than your other two front-line spinners put together (Hick now has 23, while Ian Salisbury and Ashley Giles have 21 between them), good fortune probably needs to play a part.

Ironically (or perhaps not if you place faith in statistics), it was Hick who broke through with the ball, when he had the left-handed opener Saeed Anwar lbw, playing no shot just before tea. Before that aberration, Saeed, one of the world's top five batsmen, had disdainfully hit the ball where he wanted, at will.

Perhaps playing safely to reach the tea interval, Saeed pushed half forward at Hick's second ball, hiding his bat behind his front pad just in case it turned. It did not, and England's appeal for lbw brought a raised index finger from umpire Hair.

It was probably out, but in the context of this match, Saeed was perhaps a little unlucky. Mind you, he should have known that after spinners with bent arms, one of Hair's crusades is against batsmen who tuck their bat behind their pads, claiming to play a shot. In England's Test against West Indies in Guyana three winters ago, he triggered four for just such negative play.

The Australian umpire was also quick to give Giles an official warning for running on the pitch when batting. Coming in after Craig White had fallen seven runs short of a maiden Test century, Giles scored an unbeaten 37. But runs were not his only tactic and, wearing his size 13 spikes, he tried to loosen the cracks in the pitch by running on them.

It is a trick favoured by old pros, and one Hair spotted immediately. According to the latest changes to the laws by the MCC, the warning is incurred on behalf of the whole team for that innings. After that, any further infringements bring, firstly, another warning, then a five-run penalty, the runs being awarded to the opponents' total at the end of the innings.

Giles's gamesmanship did not appear to help him or Salisbury when they bowled. On a pitch that has so far confounded everyone with its placidity, pressure has to be exerted. Saqlain managed this not only with his confounding variety of deliveries, but with an unerring control of them too, something no other spinner has managed to achieve.

At best, Giles and Salisbury were steady, while Hick, after his early success, was given the cafeteria treatment (help yourself) by Shahid Afridi. One blow, a mighty six over long-off, brought delirium to the modest crowd of around 4,000, who were again short-changed when bad light curtailed proceedings after only 75 overs had been bowled.

A big striker with an even bigger ego, Shahid raced to 50 off just 61 balls. Perhaps sensing his over-confidence, Giles switched to bowling into the rough from over the wicket. It worked and with the crowd chanting and his adrenalin pumping, Shahid skied his lofted drive to Darren Gough at long-off.

It was a useful wicket and, just as White had done for England, Shahid's assault had put them on the back foot. Unlike Shahid, White does not yet have a Test hundred to his name. A player growing in stature by the match, he thoroughly deserved one here and his departure, caught at short-leg off bat and pad for 93, was a cruel end to a marvellous innings.

* England's captain, Nasser Hussain, has been wearing a corset in this Test to try tosupport his bad back, which prevented him from batting at No 3 on the first day. Yesterday, the England physiotherapist, Dean Conway, admitted that Hussain had undergone a scan, which had found no major problem other than wear and tear. "He is in no major discomfort," said Conway, "but if the problem persists we may consider the use of an injection."