Strauss shines to secure thrilling victory for England – and cricket

Pakistan 294-8 England 295-6

This tour is in serious danger of giving cricket a good name. On a gorgeous late summer's day and a perfect pitch, a combination achieving the not inconsiderable feat of making Headingley look a picture, England and Pakistan shared 589 runs in the second one-day international yesterday.

England won by four wickets with three balls to spare, a reckless scrambled single finally putting them 2-0 up in the NatWest Series. There are three matches left, the first of which is at The Oval on Friday and suddenly everybody is feeling much better about proceedings.

For a few relaxing hours it was possible to forget the allegations of match rigging that have besmirched the game in the past fortnight. A full house, whose loyalties were evenly divided, wallowed in good, old-fashioned, high scoring one-day cricket.

The result demonstrated two important points. First, Pakistan, for all that has bedevilled them these past few days, have not given up the ghost. They might be left wondering now what they have to do to win but, despite having three players suspended and a fourth about to be questioned by police as part of their inquiries into match-fixing, they played a rousing part in a redemptive match. Unfortunately, their bowling lacks any depth and their 7ft 1ins seamer, Mohammad Irfan, stunningly awful in the field, is in danger of becoming a novelty act.

Secondly, England, who fielded as sloppily as they have done for more than a year, are now an extremely tough team to beat. They have moved up to second in the world one-day rankings and their aspiration to be number one, once a pipe dream as crazy as breaking the bank at Monte Carlo, looks to be based on sober reality.

The essential component in England's successful pursuit of the 295 runs they needed to win was provided by their captain, Andrew Strauss, who made his fifth one-day international century. It is the height of fashion to question Strauss's place in the one-day side and indeed a panel of former internationals, during a televised discussion during the break between innings yesterday, dropped him from their projected XI for the World Cup next year.

Presumably, Strauss has more things to do while preparing to bat than listen to this kind of fanciful claptrap (it is not going to happen and nor should it) but he supplied the perfect riposte. Not that the innings itself was quite impeccable, for he was dropped on 23, had a lucky escape on 38 when replays showed that he had gloved a ball behind from which wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal took a stunning catch down the leg side, and might easily have played on when he was 71.

Shahid Afridi, Pakistan's captain who remains surprisingly optimistic, agreed that it was time for the decision review system in one-day cricket.

But Strauss's greatest asset as a batsman is his unflappability (well, that and his lethal cut stroke). He merely continued along the course he had plotted, sharing a crucial partnership of 146 from 159 balls with Jonathan Trott for the second wicket.

It seemed that they might well see England home after the loss of Steve Davies who played a bristling innings. But Trott, who was beginning to play a little more assertively after a stodgy beginning was run out rather gormlessly leaving his crease contemplating a single that was never there.

Pakistan were suddenly lifted. Paul Collingwood, lacking rhythm again towards the end of the season, gifted his wicket and when Strauss was out for 126 scored from 134 balls, lbw sweeping at Saeed Ajmal, 47 runs were still needed from 34 deliveries.

However, England had enough left because they bat a long way down. Numbers five, six, seven and eight all reached double figures and at the end both Mike Yardy and Tim Bresnan struck boundaries when they were most needed.

On this sort of surface, custom designed for one-day cricket, England were always likely to be chasing around 300. Pakistan might have appeared in disarray but they were not about to miss out on the chance of batting on a surface where the ball came on to the bat and hardly moved off the straight.

If there was a defect it was that none of the batsmen went on to play the substantial innings that might have taken their total into unassailable realms. However, Kamran Akmal delighted the supporters with 74 from 72 balls, his hitting clean and decisive.

The ground fielding was far from the standard England have set. "We were a shambles," said Strauss. "It was one of those days when a couple were missed early and everyone started getting a bit edgy."

Jimmy Anderson bowled with admirable cleverness and control, Graeme Swann matched him, and although Stuart Broad had the most expensive four-wicket haul in one-day history those wickets at the end were probably significant. The most important part of the day by far was that spectators departed with a smile.

Headingley scoreboard

ENGLAND v PAKISTAN

Pakistan won toss

PAKISTAN

......... Runs......... 6s......... 4s......... Bls

†K Akmal lbw b Collingwood......... 74......... 0......... 12......... 72

M Hafeez b Swann......... 43......... 0......... 5......... 68

M Yousuf c Davies b Broad......... 46......... 1......... 2......... 48

A Shafiq c Bopara b Broad......... 50......... 1......... 3......... 58

U Akmal c Davies b Broad......... 28......... 0......... 4......... 23

*S S M K Afridi c Strauss b Anderson......... 9......... 1......... 0......... 6

F Alam not out......... 20......... 0......... 2......... 16

U Gul b Bresnan......... 3......... 0......... 0......... 5

S Ajmal c Strauss b Broad......... 4......... 0......... 0......... 4

S Akhtar not out......... 0......... 0......... 0......... 0

Extras (lb 12, w 5)......... 17

Total (8 wkts, 50 overs)......... 294

Fall: 1-122, 2-137, 3-211, 4-246, 5-258, 6-278, 7-284, 8-289.

Did not bat: M Irfan.

Bowling: T T Bresnan 9-0-53-1, J M Anderson 10-1-36-1, S C J Broad 10-0-81-4, M H Yardy 6-0-43-0, G P Swann 10-0-43-1, P D Collingwood 5-0-26-1.

ENGLAND

......... Runs......... 6s......... 4s......... Bls

*A J Strauss b Ajmal......... 126......... 1......... 10......... 134

†S M Davies c Akmal b Akhtar......... 26......... 0......... 5......... 21

I J L Trott run out......... 53......... 0......... 2......... 71

P D Collingwood c sub b Afridi......... 19......... 0......... 0......... 25

E J G Morgan c Hafeez b Gul......... 16......... 0......... 1......... 18

R S Bopara c Hafeez b Ajmal......... 16......... 0......... 1......... 13

M H Yardy not out......... 13......... 0......... 2......... 8

T T Bresnan not out......... 10......... 0......... 2......... 7

Extras (lb 3, w 13)......... 16

Total (6 wkts, 49.3 overs)......... 295

Fall: 1-43, 2-189, 3-220, 4-248, 5-260, 6-282.

Did not bat: G P Swann, S C J Broad, J M Anderson.

Bowling: S Akhtar 8-0-49-1, M Irfan 7-0-40-0, U Gul 9.3-0-59-1, S Ajmal 10-0-52-2, S S M K Afridi 9-0-59-1, M Hafeez 6-0-33-0.

Umpires: B R Doctrove & N J Llong

England lead five-match series 2-0

Remaining fixtures: Friday: Third ODI (The Oval)

20 Sept: Fourth ODI (Lord's)

22 Sept: Fifth ODI (Rose Bowl)

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