Pakistan hold their nerve but Strauss must address defects

Exciting finish brings the series alive although it cannot mask some of the problems facing England
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The Independent Online

Pakistan, who had hitherto looked incapable of beating a carpet, won the Third Test yesterday.

It took them four hours of the fourth day to see off England, the finishing line kept receding, but finally, blissfully and deservedly for the tourists the crucial single arrived.

The series now stands at 2-1 in favour of the home side, the Fourth and final Test begins at Lord's on Thursday and suddenly anything could happen. Pakistan, no-hopers five days ago after being twice bowled out for double figure scores, are now contenders again.

This is, of course, perfectly normal practice for a team which never knows what each day might bring. They nearly mucked it up yesterday in an hour after lunch in which they shed three quick wickets, turning a stroll in the park to a night on Elm Street, so there is plenty of scope between now and Thursday for them to change at least twice the side of the bed they wake up on.

As for England, this four-wicket defeat in an eminently watchable match not only halted an artificial sequence of six successive victories, but also begged many questions about the state of the team. Whatever they say about being in a happy place there was a multitude of unhappy aspects about their display in this Test.

The batting in both innings was eventually wretched and in some respects the collapse in the second was sorrier than the rank incompetence in the first because it showed them unable to deal with high-class swing and spin bowling. Pakistan bowled beautifully in the final session on Friday to ensure that they were overwhelming favourites at the start of play yesterday but their opponents were willing accomplices.

These defects need addressing because England's batting has been less than impressive for a little while. Too many innings are being rescued from disaster, too many players are out of form and it is at least a point of debate that too many of them are being given a last chance.

True, Alastair Cook ended the argument about his place with a century that showed the depth of his batting character in England's second innings (and much good it did him) and the attention now turns, more worryingly, to the captain Andrew Strauss. He has gone 22 innings without a hundred, his record is the worst among the side's batsmen this year and the last thing England need in the run-up to the Ashes is Australians taking pot-shots at a captain who cannot score a run.

The team for Thursday's match will be announced today. There will be, as usual, no changes. It is too late for that. But a more rounded exhibition of the cricketing skills is required, especially if not exclusively by the batsmen. England's bowling at times lacked purpose. Perhaps, the defeat will concentrate minds. Perhaps, given what lies ahead, it was better this way, perhaps the issues would have been too easily avoided had England somehow snatched a victory yesterday even as the jaws of defeat eased into the jugular. And how close it came.

The session after lunch, which had started life as a formality, reached heights of extreme tension. One more wicket when Pakistan were 132 for 6 and went 27 balls without scoring, or looking as if they might score, and England might have turned the match on its head. It was compulsive viewing and we should have seen it coming given Pakistan's previous in these matters. It took four balls to finish off England's innings when Stuart Broad, who is out of sorts at present, miscued a pull almost absent-mindedly to mid-on. It gave Mohammad Aamer his fifth wicket, the youngest bowler at 18, to achieve the feat. What a career may lie ahead for him. His late accurate swing on Friday evening, which changed the match, was breathtaking.

Pakistan needed 148 to win. In Sydney last winter they failed to chase 179, in Headingley last month, also against Australia in the second of the neutral Tests, they almost made a porridge of pursuing 180, staggering home eventually by three wickets. This time, they adopted a different approach. Instead of batting as if their lives depended on it, they emerged without a care in the world.

The fall of Yasir Hameed's wicket to Jimmy Anderson did not deter Imran Farhat and Pakistan were rattling along at five an over. Broad bowled a loose couple of overs and was no better later on. He was trying all right, but it was a lacklustre spell of a man not conveying the impression that he was full of passion for the cause. Anderson, too, had to be removed from the attack as Farhat advanced down the track. Graeme Swann was introduced in the sixth over and in the 12th he removed Farhat, leg-before, sweeping. Before lunch, Swann snaffled Salman Butt with an off break which Pakistan's captain, in good order until then, edged behind.

Still, at 115 for 3 at the break it was Pakistan's for the taking. Mohammad Yousuf, unhurried as ever, was in occupation. He would see them home. But Anderson and Swann began to change the tempo of the match. Runs were harder to come by, Anderson was achieving unorthodox swing, Swann's clever changes of pace with the turning ball instilled hesitation. Pakistan's apprehension was embodied by Azhar Ali's dismissal as he and Yousuf got themselves into a dreadful tangle over a non-existent single which led to his being run out. Anderson then produced a superb swinging yorker which removed Yousuf's off stump, Swann had Kamran Akmal leg before offering no shot, 27 scoreless balls followed.

It was nerve-tingling stuff, Pakistan did not dare play a shot in anger, England offered nothing. But at last, Swann dropped one short which Aamer gratefully pulled for four, Anderson erred to leg to allow Umar Akmal to tuck round for another boundary, and that was all but that.

The Oval Scoreboard

England won toss

England – First innings 233

(M J Prior 84no; Wahab Riaz 5-63)

Pakistan – First innings 308

(Azhar Ali 92no, Mohammad Yousuf 56)

England – Second innings

(Overnight 221-9: A N Cook 110)

S C J Broad c Mohammad Asif b Mohammad Aamer (16 balls, 1 four): 6

S T Finn not out (6 balls): 1

Extras (lb 5, w 2, nb 5): 12

Total (77 overs): 222

Fall (cont): 10-222 (Broad).

Bowling: Mohammad Aamer 19-5-52-5, Mohammad Asif 16-7-45-0, Wahab Riaz 8-1-40-1, Saeed Ajmal 31-7-71-4, Imran Farhat 3-0-9-0.

Pakistan – Second innings

Imran Farhat lbw b Swann (39 balls, 6 fours): 33

Yasir Hameed c Swann b Anderson (1 ball): 0

*Salman Butt c Collingwood b Swann (64 balls, 6 fours): 48

Mohammad Yousuf b Anderson (56 balls, 5 fours): 33

Azhar Ali run out (Anderson/Swann) (24 balls, 1 four): 5

Umar Akmal not out (36 balls, 1 four): 16

†Kamran Akmal lbw b Swann (6 balls): 0

Mohammad Aamer not out (25 balls, 1 four): 4

Extras (b 4, lb 2, w 2, nb 1): 9

Total (6 wkts, 41.4 overs): 148

Fall: 1-5 (Yasir Hameed), 2-57 (Imran Farhat), 3-103 (Salman Butt), 4-124 (Azhar Ali), 5-131 (Mohammad Yousuf), 6-132 (Kamran Akmal).

Did not bat: Wahab Riaz, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Asif.

Bowling: J M Anderson 14-5-39-2, S C J Broad 6-0-35-0,

G P Swann 18.4-4-50-3, S T Finn 3-0-18-0.

Umpires: S J Davis (Aus) and A L Hill (NZ).

TV Umpire: B F Bowden (NZ).

Match referee: R S Madugalle (SL).

Pakistan win by 4 wkts.

Man of the Match: Mohammad Aamer (Pak).

England lead four-Test series 2-1.

Timeline

11.01am: Rapidly delivered

Fourth ball of the day and England's innings ends with Mohammad Aamer dismissing Stuart Broad to pick up his fifth wicket.

11.15am: No second chance

Yasir Hameed is dismissed first ball, caught by Graeme Swann at second slip at the second attempt in the first over of Pakistan's pursuit of their target of 148.

11.40am: Looking one-sided

Broad is bowling to an 8-1 field but Salman Butt still pierces it and takes 12 from the over.

12.06pm: Not a leg to stand on

Farhat is out leg before sweeping and the review fails to save him.

12.50pm: Done like a skipper

Having played with authority, captain Butt tamely edges a smart off-break from Swann behind but Pakistan reach lunch on 115 for 3.

2.05pm: No single reason

Azhar Ali is run out after nudging on the leg side and hesitating over a non-existent single that Mohammad Yousuf completely misjudges.

2.15pm: Getting out to the swing

Yousuf's off stump is upended by a beauty from Jimmy Anderson, a late swinging yorker, and England scent a chance of victory.

2.23pm: Four ducks on the wall

Kamran Akmal pads up outside off stump and is lbw (upheld by review) for his fourth Test duck of the summer to leave Pakistan perilously placed at 132 for 6.

2.40pm: Running on empty

Drinks, and the first hour after lunch has brought 17 runs in 14 overs, and there has not been a run scored for almost five overs.

2.50pm: Loosen the ropes

Swann and Anderson stray to allow a couple of welcome boundaries.

2.58pm: Back in the running

Swann is turned for a single and Pakistan make it 2-1 in the series.

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