It says much about the planning and preparation involved in the modern game that England last night ascribed the stunning Test debut of Pakistan's Wahab Riaz not to an outstanding display of fast left-arm swing bowling, nor to poor batting, but to the fact they had barely heard of the 25-year-old.
Wahab, selected in the absence of the injured Umar Gul, took 5 for 63, the first four wickets costing 16 runs as England were reduced to 74 for 6. Matt Prior, whose unbeaten 84 helped England reach 233, said: "We haven't seen a great deal of him and didn't know much about him. The main thing he had today was an element of surprise. That played into his hands.
"Having seen his action and how he tries to get people out, we will have better plans for the second innings. He bowled well, but having had a look at him will stand us in good stead for the second innings."
Maybe England should have contacted J & G Meakin CC, a Hanley-based club who play in the Second Division of the North Staffs South Cheshire League. Four seasons ago Wahab spent a season with the club in his only previous experience of English conditions. He is understood to have taken 77 wickets at 13 apiece.
Wahab, who had bowled only 18 first-class overs on tour until yesterday, said his "secret" was simply "bowling line and length". He added: "We all have dreams. It was my dream and it came true. When the main bowlers are playing well it is hard to get into the team. When you get a chance you must take it, that's what I did."
Intriguingly, Wahab said the wicket that pleased him most was that of Eoin Morgan: "I've seen him score a lot of runs this year and I thought he could be the crucial wicket." When it was pointed out to Wahab that in the not-so-recent past Kevin Pietersen was the England batsman bowlers most wanted to dismiss, he said: "He's a wonderful player, but Morgan was most in my mind."
Prior has caused Pakistan as many problems as anyone, averaging more than 100 in this series. Which was a strong platform from which to announce, "I consider myself a batsman, not a wicketkeeper-batsman," and to confirm he would be happy to bat at No 6. Not that there is much chance of the selectors reverting to six batsmen with England's batting as fragile as it looked yesterday.
Prior added: "Having won the toss on what looked a good batting track it was a bit of a shock [to come in at 67 for 5], but as a unit we have a huge amount of belief that we will fight back in whatever situation we find ourselves in. We believe someone will put their hands up and perform.
"It is obviously a below-par total but it is hard to say how much. It depends how we bowl. By the end it looked a pretty good wicket, it had flattened out and didn't swing that much. But the minute the clouds come over it is a different proposition altogether. It starts nipping around."
Prior had words of consolation for Alastair Cook, who failed again, and of praise for Stuart Broad, who shook off criticism of his ball-throwing tantrum in the second Test to share the 119-run, eighth-wicket partnership with Prior that rescued England from an ignominiously low total.
"The only thing you can do is work hard and perform. Hats off to Broady. He's done just that. We know he's hugely talented, that showed his mental toughness and desire."
Of Cook he said: "We've all been there. All he needs is a bit of luck. He's hitting the ball beautifully. He's a class player, we all know that. It is only a matter of time before Cookie starts scoring good runs again."Reuse content