Somehow, thrillingly, unexpectedly, there remain the makings of a contest. The first neutral Test match to be played in this country for 98 years might yet be one to be talked about in another 98. It will not, however, last five days and at this rate it will struggle to make it to a fourth. No matter. It is compelling stuff.
After two days, 24 wickets have fallen partly because of astute bowlers taking advantage of having conditions in their favour for once, partly because of inept batsmen far too accustomed to having matters their way. It has been a classic case of the boot being moved from one foot to the other without anybody being prepared for it.
There is also the involvement of Pakistan, gloriously mercurial yet handsomely gifted. They made a complete mess of their first innings against Australia yesterday and for long periods of the second day the first Test of the MCC Spirit of Cricket Series was slipping out of sight. Pakistan might have embraced the spirit of the old game but not its other fundamental requirements such as resolve, concentration and method.
Australia took full advantage of the shortcomings and took a lead of 105 which they had extended to 205 by the close, but for the loss of four second-innings wickets. When it looked as though Pakistan were drifting disconsolately out of it, they suddenly found inspiration from their clever, skilful fast bowlers.
Mohammad Asif, who is on the slow side of fast these days, took the first two Australian wickets including the still prized one of Ricky Ponting for a duck, and then Umar Gul, in a wonderful spell, took two in two balls.
What disarray Pakistan were in earlier in the afternoon. The improbable executioner-in-chief was the all-rounder Shane Watson who took 5 for 40 in 7.5 distinctly odd overs and thus will become the first bowler to have his name on the dressing-room honours board for Tests not involving England.
Watson had taken only 27 wickets in his previous 18 Tests and is often used as a fill-in bowler to give the specialists a rest. If the straightness of his bowling is not a lone virtue it is not far from it. Pakistan are probably paying the price for a bold team selection, bordering on idiotic, in which their middle order consisted of two debutants at three and four and a 20-year-old at number five with only six previous Test matches behind him in conditions they can hardly have seen before. It was taking to extremes the theoretical notion that this counts as a home Test for Pakistan.
Only Salman Butt, a seasoned though indifferent campaigner who had already scored two of his three Test hundreds against Australia, exhibited the essential requirements for long enough. Conditions were difficult but not extreme for batsmen of international class. To repel the moving ball they had to opt not to play if possible, defend vigilantly and ensure they hit the bad ball. Salman did so and was ninth out, when the game was up, to one of Watson's few genuinely penetrative balls.
Those who adduce that playing in too much one-day cricket can only impede batsmen in Test matches were provided with abundant evidence. Pakistan's batsmen, greenhorns and olds sweats alike, played as though it was a warm-up Twenty20 on a sunny sub-continental evening.
The irretrievable damage occurred in 24 overs in the afternoon. At that point, Australia would have been grateful that they had added another 31 runs for their 10th wicket in the morning, largely through Mike Hussey's skill, but still uncertain that they were sufficient. They were ample.
Mitchell Johnson produced a beauty of a lifter to the second debutant, Umar Amin, which he could only edge behind. It could be said that he was good enough to get a touch. Then Watson was introduced, occasional and not feared. He struck with his fourth and seventh balls, both the Akmal brothers, Umar the younger and Kamran the elder being leg before. Umar played horribly across a ball which did not veer, a shot born in limited-overs cricket if ever there was one and not meant for Lord's a on a bowler's day. Kamran misjudged the line and padded up.
Briefly, Afridi dazzled, striking four fours, but he perished trying to his second six in successive balls. There was no way back for Pakistan's innings and no late resistance. Watson finished the innings and claimed his fifth wicket when he had Danish Kaneria caught at slip.
It seemed to be terminal for Pakistan as Watson and Simon Katich began boldly against some waywardness. But how it changed. Watson was guilty of foolhardiness, poor Ponting guiltier still when he padded up to Asif. Then in successive balls Gul bowled Clarke with a lovely ball which cut back startlingly and forced Hussey to edge the next ball to slip. Australia are favourites, Pakistan are still in it.
Lord's (Second day of five): Australia lead Pakistan by 205 runs with six second innings wickets remaining; Pakistan won toss
Australia: First Innings Overnight: 229-9 (S M Katich 80)
M E K Hussey not out 56/1/8/100
D E Bollinger b Aamer 4/0/1/28
Extras (b 10, lb 2, w 2, nb 10) 24
Total (76.5 overs) 253
Fall: 1-8, 2-51, 3-171, 4-174, 5-174, 6-206, 7-208, 8-213, 9-222, 10-253.
Bowling M Aamer 19.5-2-72-4, M Asif 19-5-63-3, U Gul 17-3-32-1, S S M K Afridi 3-0-25-0, D P S Kaneria 18-7-49-2.
Pakistan: First Innings
I Farhat c Paine b Hilfenhaus 4/0/1/19
S Butt b Watson 63/0/12/94
A Ali c Paine b Hilfenhaus 16/0/2/43
U Amin c Paine b Johnson/1/0/0/3
U Akmal lbw b Watson 5/0/0/21
†K Akmal lbw b Watson 0/0/0/3
*S S M K Afridi c Johnson b Watson 31/2/4/15
M Aamer c Paine b Bollinger 0/0/0/2
U Gul c Watson b Bollinger 7/0/1/20
D P S Kaneria c Smith b Watson 14/0/1/20
M Asif not out 4/0/1/6
Extras (lb 2, nb 1) 3
Total (40.5 overs) 148
Fall 1-11, 2-45, 3-54, 4-75, 5-83, 6-117, 7-117, 8-129, 9-133, 10-148.
Bowling D E Bollinger 11-3-38-2, B W Hilfenhaus 12-2-37-2, M G Johnson 10-2-31-1, S R Watson 7.5-1-40-5.
Australia: Second Innings
S R Watson c Farhat b Asif 31/1/4/51
S M Katich not out 49/0/9/93
*R T Ponting lbw b Asif 0/0/0/6
M J Clarke b Gul 12/0/2/25
M E K Hussey c Farhat b Gul 0/0/0/1
M G Johnson not out 2/0/0/6
Extras (lb 1, nb 5) 6
Total (4 wkts, 29.3 overs) 100
Fall 1-61, 2-73, 3-97, 4-97.
To bat M J North, †T D Paine, S P D Smith, B W Hilfenhaus, D E Bollinger.
Bowling M Aamer 8.3-2-30-0, M Asif 9-2-30-2, U Gul 5-2-7-2, D P S Kaneria 7-1-32-0.
Umpires I J Gould (Eng) & R E Koertzen (SA).Reuse content