England's centurions ride luck as Pakistan pay for dropped catches

Pakistan 462 England 391-7
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The Independent Online

There were no explosions, no dodgy dancing on the pitch, no bans, no ludicrous run-outs and no debatable catches on the third day of the second Test here, just good, sensible batting from England's two most inexperienced batsmen.

A week ago, following the hapless collapse in the first Test at Multan, England's middle order looked about as healthy as the donkeys that pull huge loads around Faisalabad. Yesterday, after contrasting centuries from Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen, the position appeared a lot less scraggy.

England will need to bat well during the remaining two days of another captivating Test if they are to maintain an interest in the series but the batting of Bell, Pietersen and Geraint Jones, who scored an excellent 51, has given them a chance. At the close of another day shortened by bad light England had reached 391 for 7.

England's cause was helped by shoddy fielding from Pakistan, who missed eight opportunities to nail home the advantage gained over the course of the first two days.

Bell had four lives before reaching his second Test hundred. He should have been stumped off the bowling of Danish Kaneria on 38, and caught by close-in fielders before he had reached 75. But the easiest chance came when he pulled a short ball from Rana Naved-ul-Hasan straight to Salman Butt at midwicket on 90.

There would have been times during the Ashes when Bell left the cricket ground wondering what he had done to bring such misfortune upon himself. Last night he would have realised that these things do even themselves out.

Pietersen's innings, predictably, was more positive than Bell's and he was dropped twice by Kaneria in the 60s. Buts and ifs have yet to win a Test match but England's position would be pretty dire if the 114 runs added by the pair after their initial errors were removed.

England began the third day requiring 150 to avoid the follow-on, and 148 of these had been collected when Pietersen rashly pulled Shoaib Akhtar to mid-on. Had Michael Vaughan's side collapsed from 261 for 4 to 300 all out a finger or two would have been pointed in Pietersen's direction. Yet his batting is a wave England followers will have to ride on. In the end you have to look in the column of averages, and Pietersen currently averages more than 50.

Pietersen's weakness is also his strength and Pakistan's bowlers spent most of his innings looking to trap him lbw. There were a couple of close calls but the line of attack allowed him to collect runs in his favoured area - the leg side.

Pietersen refrained from collecting sixes until after lunch but 18 of the 30 runs he scored after the interval came via this route. Shoaib Malik and Kaneria were biffed back over their heads, and a second Test hundred was reached when he hooked Shoaib Akhtar, armed with the second new ball, straight into the advertising boards at deep square leg.

By now Pietersen was ticking, and in his desire to dominate Shoaib Akhtar he naïvely pulled a simple catch to mid-on.

Bell's innings, by contrast, was one of attrition and concentration. The 23-year-old possesses neither the range of strokes nor the power of Pietersen, but he is happy to collect runs in his own Athertonesque way.

Vaughan's knee injury, sustained before the first Test, has led to a remarkable turnaround in Bell's fortunes. Prior to the captain's problems he was not expected to feature in the series, but the threat of the axe appears to have focused his mind.

Bell entered the first Test with nothing to lose and scored over 100 runs. England may have lost the Test but Bell would have left Multan a far happier and more confident man than when he arrived. Sure, he had luck, but there was still an assured and simple method to the way he scored runs.

Shoaib Akhtar bowled fast throughout the day yet he rarely troubled Bell. Neither did Kaneria, whose leg spin was affected by a second warning for running on the pitch. The prospect of not being able to bowl again in the innings - three warnings and you are off - forced Kaneria to bowl either round the wicket or wide of the crease. It made facing him far less challenging but keeping out a bowler of his class for more than six hours takes a lot of skill.

Andrew Flintoff was the only England batsman to fail. The timing of Pietersen's dismissal - the second new ball was only eight balls old when Flintoff walked out to bat - did not help and Shoaib Akhtar's pace was too much for his tentative forward prod.

A tired-looking Bell fell to a chastened Shahid Afridi 30 minutes before tea, as did Jones after a confident and well-constructed half-century.

Highlights

Shot of the day

KEVIN PIETERSEN: Batsmen are supposed to get nervous in the 90s. Not England's Kevin Pietersen, who reached his hundred by hooking a Shoaib Akhtar bouncer over deep square-leg for six. What style.

Ball of the day

SHOAIB AKHTAR: There is no better sight for a fast bowler than watching the middle stump go cartwheeling through the air. And this is what happened to Andrew Flintoff when Shoaib Akhtar ripped a rapid delivery through his uncertain prod to hit smack on middle.

Moment of the day

IAN BELL: Bell's ability as a Test batsman was being questioned 10 days ago but he silenced his critics yesterday with a second hundred of his short international career. His delight was easy to see when he cut the spin of Shahid Afridi for four during the afternoon to bring up three figures.

Scoreboard

Pakistan won toss

Pakistan - First innings 462 (Inzamam-ul-Haq 109)

England - First innings (Overnight: 113 for 3)

I R Bell c Kamran Akmal b Shahid Afridi 115 372 min, 272 balls, 7 fours

K P Pietersen c Mohammad Yousuf b Shoaib Akhtar 100 202 min, 137 balls, 6 fours, 3 sixes

A Flintoff b Shoaib Akhtar 1 17 min, 10 balls

ÝG O Jones lbw b Shahid Afridi 55 141 min, 86 balls, 8 fours

A F Giles not out 23 5 min, 72 balls, 3 fours

S D Udal not out 6 13 min, 10 balls, 1 four

Extras (b1, lb7, w1, nb20) 29

Total (for 7, 535 min, 121 overs) 391

Fall (cont): 4-261 (Pietersen), 5-272 (Flintoff), 6-327 (Bell), 7-378 (Jones).

To bat: M J Hoggard, S J Harmison.

Bowling: Shoaib Akhtar 23-2-76-2 (nb3,w1) (4-1-12-0, 4-0-16-0, 6-0-16-0, 5-0-27-2, 4-1-5-0); Naved-ul-Hasan 20-2-63-2 (nb8) (10-2-23-2, 5-0-19-0, 4-0-18-0, 1-0-3-0); Mohammad Sami 19-4-51-1 (5-1-20-0, 3-2-2-1, 6-1-14-0, 2-0-4-0, 3-0-11-0); Shahid Afridi 25-3-74-2 (nb6) (2-0-18-0, 1-0-2-0, 13-1-40-0, 1-0-7-0, 5-1-14-1, 3-1-3-1); Danish Kaneria 30-3-90-0 (nb3) (1-0-1-0, 6-0-29-0, 8-2-20-0, 3-0-11-0, 7-1-12-0, 5-0-17-0); Shoaib Malik 4-0-29-0 (2-0-14-0, 2-0-15-0).

Progress: 150: 241 min, 51.1 overs. 200: 292 min, 62.5 overs. Lunch: 217 for 3 (Bell 69, Pietersen 70) 72 overs. 250: 346 min, 78.3 overs. New ball taken after 80 overs at 253 for 3. 300: 403 min, 88.2 overs. 350: 466 min, 105 overs. Tea: 353 for 6 (Jones 36, Giles 12) 106 overs. Bad light stopped play 4.34pm. Bell: 50: 184 min, 117 balls, 3 fours. 100: 336 min, 232 balls, 6 fours. Pietersen 50: 111 min, 67 balls, 5 fours. 100: 201 min, 136 balls, 6 fours, 3 sixes. Jones 50: 107 min, 65 balls, 8 fours.

Umpires: D B Hair and S J A Taufel (Aus).

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