At lunch in the Gaddafi Stadium yesterday, England were contemplating the safe negotiation of a draw. The day was still, warm but not oppressive, the pitch was blameless, the bowling was intermittently troublesome but no more, the batsmen looked to be concreted to the crease.
It was not what the tourists had come for, but it was something to show for their fighting qualities. A 1-0 series defeat on the subcontinent, they might have opined, could happen to anybody.
So, a fairly turgid morning session - almost bereft of alarm or entertainment - had yielded 81 runs and no wickets. Sixty- nine minutes later, in a surprise approaching sensation, England had lost their last eight wickets for 43 runs in 70 balls - the first four in 16 balls, the last two in successive deliveries - and the match by an innings and 100 runs. It was a clean and incisive kill which huntsmen yearn for but rarely achieve. England's nemeses were a smart fast bowler and a cunning leg-spinner.
Such a potent combination may have stirred their memories, but this time it was not Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne but Shoaib Akhtar and Danish Kaneria to whom they could provide no effective response. Between them the pair utterly bamboozled England in a contrary yet familiar fashion.
Akhtar is one of the fastest bowlers there has been, but here his most reliable ally was his devilish slower ball, with which he took three of his five second-innings wickets. Kaneria took his googly into the battle with consummate skill, and twice it did his bidding exactly.
Pakistan thoroughly deserved the victory, seizing control of the match after England had dug a hole considerably larger than Inzamam-ul-Haq's girth with their first-innings batting. Pakistan's total of 636 for 8 was of a size designed to inflict maximum damage on opposition bodies and psyches, so large that England could never relax.
England were fighting to salvage that great intangible beloved of defeated sportsman: pride. For the first two hours Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood barely put a foot wrong or played a false shot. On balance it was difficult to tell which was more benign, the pitch or the cricket being played on it.
Shortly before lunch, Collingwood, who was giving his doubters some cause for revision, was hit on the left arm by Akhtar. Shortly after it - four balls after it, to be precise - with elbow guard in place he pushed forward and edged a conventional Kaneria leg-break to slip. It was the opening that Pakistan needed. In Kaneria's next over, Kevin Pietersen misjudged a jab to point trying to grab a single and was smartly held by Hasan Raza.
In came Andrew Flintoff, who played forward to his first ball and was bowled through the gate by Kaneria's googly. That was all the encouragement that Akhtar needed. He sprinted in, shirt billowing despite the breezeless day. The mode of his deliveries could have been learned from a dance teacher: slow, slow, quick, quick, slow, and with a beautiful rhythm and sense of theatre to match. The purity of the action remains elusive to the punctilious without access to a decent bowling-review laboratory, but there is no doubting Akhtar's allure. What a thrilling sight he is.
Bell had scored 92 from 188 balls, so his eye was in when Akhtar produced a dipping slower ball that hit him on the back pad. Geraint Jones was given lbw off a thick inside edge and Liam Plunkett, the hapless victim of another slower ball, might have avoided Rudi Koertzen's index finger on another day.
Akhtar, having taken his 12th five-wicket haul in Tests, left the field, his job done. Mohammad Sami took Shaun Udal's edge, Hoggard too failed to spot Kaneria's googly. The holders of the Ashes had been vanquished.Reuse content