Swann: 'If it goes five days I'll eat my hat'

 

Dubai

After watching Azhar Ali grind out runs for nearly nine hours, England deserved a break. Azhar looked like a man at peace with his world, a man who likes to set out his stall and let others do as they will.

He is unflappable. He played his maiden Test in England in 2010, before all the fuss started and even then it probably passed him by. In 20 Test matches, he has scored his runs at a shade over two runs an over, the sort of player whom the late, great Ken Barrington would have looked fondly on. No frills but no nonsense either.

It was a big surprise when he gave a catch to short leg after making a career-best 157, including 10 fours and a six. It is another surprise that he hit two other sixes in Test matches.

"The way Younis Khan and Azhar Ali batted has shown us the way to play," said Graeme Swann, doubtless relieved to have taken three late wickets, including that of Azhar. "They used the bat instead of their pads and Younis especially took the attack to the spinners. His century was one of the best I have seen for a long time."

So it was, and if Azhar's was from a different drawer, that did not make it much further from the top. It was an innings for the circumstances, for Pakistan needed to eat time out of the match, both to ensure that England did not have enough of it left to reach a winning target and to needle them.

That they failed narrowly in both objectives suggested that there was still fight left in the England dressing room when there might have been none towards the end of a perplexing series and a crazy match.

"We came into this series full of hope, thinking we could win," said Swann. "But we have a chance to salvage something. For a long time it looked as though we wouldn't be able to do that but because of our perseverance with the ball we can."

If it has been a tough series for England, Swann has embodied the struggle in some ways. He has not matched the potency of the opposition spinners, while his colleague Monty Panesar, whom he praised unequivocally, has had better returns. The wickets have come but they have taken their time, as they did yesterday.

"Such is life sometimes," he said. "It's no great secret that they are riddled with right-handers which doesn't play into my court. If you are coming round the wicket and can attack the stumps, that's better for me.

"It has been hard because the right-handed players they have got are good players of spin. But they may have shown us how to bat against the spinners on this pitch."

And then he made an offer nobody was about to refuse. "The very fact that there is such a long time left takes the draw out of the equation," he said. "If it goes five days I will eat my hat.

"It's an absolute mountain to climb. Our batsmen have a point to prove to themselves and you guys as well," he said, meaning a critical press. "We know that if we're serious about No 1 and staying there we need to come to Asia and beat teams and we haven't done that in this series."

And there was the rub.

Facts: in figures

There have been 41 lbws in the series, two short of the record for a Test series of any length

34: England wrapped up Pakistan's final seven wickets for a paltry amount

157: Azhar Ali's highest Test innings is only his second Test century

36: The overnight score – for no wickets down – is England's highest opening partnership of the series

5: Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq has been out lbw five times this series, to four different bowlers – he has appealed five times and lost them all

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