I've still got stomach for fair fight

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The Independent Online

It was my birthday last week. I was 32. The middle of the peak of a fast bowler's career. I marked this auspicious occasion by succumbing to what is known round here as a dose of the lurgy.

It was my birthday last week. I was 32. The middle of the peak of a fast bowler's career. I marked this auspicious occasion by succumbing to what is known round here as a dose of the lurgy.

The stomach cramps have been with me for days, confining me to my room. They come and they go, but they have been fairly unpleasant. Nine weeks in strange surroundings eating unfamiliar food is, I suppose, long enough to wait. Thankfully, they arrived between Test matches. There has been some time, therefore, for gentle reflection on the Test that has gone and the two Tests that are to come. There are only two weeks left of this tour now, but they contain the 10 most important days.

England did well to emerge from the Gaddafi Stadium with a draw. It was not a points win, for the slowly turning pitch did not allow the match to progress far enough for that. By the end, I can assure you, players, officials, commentators, spectators (what there were of them), viewers and listeners must have been hoping it would slowly turn all right, preferably in its own grave.

However, the tourists have probably come away with more plus points than the home side. Slow it was, but turn it did, and from the start. England's batsmen throughout the order nullified the Pakistan spinners. Only one of them took wickets in our long first innings.

We then bowled better than them, achieving much more reverse swing, which is supposed to be their secret weapon, and generally had the edge. Pakistan will have received a shock.

The man of the match award went to Saqlain Mushtaq for his 8 for 164 and his 32 not out, an innings which began at a time when they still had not saved the follow-on. A magnificent effort certainly, but I find room to quibble with the award. It took Saqlain 74 overs to get his wickets (true, none of his colleagues got any at all in the other 122) and he was never fluent or assured at the crease, though he laughed a lot at us when he had scampered a single. Craig White took four wickets, in a third of the overs, bowled fast on this lifeless surface and scored a handsome 93. I thought he deserved the nod.

I got another gentle nod from the direction of the match referee. Nothing untoward, you understand, but there was some concern about my little spat with Inzamam-ul-Haq. Now, I thought I had a pretty good shout against the Pakistani right-hander for lbw (in my humble opinion as good as my one which was subsequently upheld against their captain, Moin Khan).

On its being turned down, I suggested to Inzi that he might be uncertain of the ball's trajectory, and stared at him for a second or two. The message came back that I should calm it down. I feel I'm being targeted in this regard. On a pitch like that, where there is nothing for fast bowlers, no movement, no pace, no bounce, absolutely nothing, it is natural - no, it is imperative - to show some aggression. That is what I shall continue to do, within legitimate boundaries and the game's spirit.

The teams are getting on with each other (though Saqlain's giggling was mildly annoying) and it now comes down to Faisalabad. The thinking is unchanged. Pakistan are the home side, and if England can get out of here with honours even that is a good result; if they can win a match, that is an exceptional one.

It may depend on the state of the pitch - oh for some life, which surely the home authorities will now encourage - but Faisalabad may represent our best chance. Pakistan have never been beaten at Karachi by any team.

Mind you, that won't worry us. West Indies had not been beaten at Barbados for 59 years before we went there. No place is a citadel.

The day before the lurgy struck, which was the day after the Test finished, was the occasion of the Players v Press golf match. The players won5-1, only Darren Gough and Michael Vaughan losing, to Derek Pringle ( Independent) and Mike Selvey ( Guardian), though there was some suggestion that this was only because Selvey has an "in" at Woburn Golf Club, which Gough wants to join.

Apparently, the press gained a modicum of compensation the following day when they beat the Pakistan press in a cricket match on the Test pitch. The Independent on Sunday's representative, who did not appear in the golf, tells me he executed a stumping and took a catch behind the stumps.

I have emerged into the world but once. It was an unsuccessful outing. We were told that the Nike factory is in this city, and got there to find it is a textile works. It made a good photo-opportunity for the manager, though. And then I took to my bed.

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