View from the balcony: Rapt and raucous on surreal day

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The Independent Online

It was a match and a series that could not be won. England pitched up to the National Stadium last Monday morning, the fifth and final day of the final Test and of the tour, and knew that they had to get out of Karachi that evening with a draw. The pitch was such that bowling out Pakistan was not a genuine consideration. Three wickets down overnight, they only had to keep going until mid-afternoon, kick on a bit and they were safe. When might they declare, England wondered? At what stage would they try to make life difficult?

It was a match and a series that could not be won. England pitched up to the National Stadium last Monday morning, the fifth and final day of the final Test and of the tour, and knew that they had to get out of Karachi that evening with a draw. The pitch was such that bowling out Pakistan was not a genuine consideration. Three wickets down overnight, they only had to keep going until mid-afternoon, kick on a bit and they were safe. When might they declare, England wondered? At what stage would they try to make life difficult?

None of this (and it does not seem any more believable nearly a week later) came to pass. Pakistan batted and bowled at best naïvely and allowed England's belief to grow. Every time the tourists needed a break they got one but, though it sounds confused to say so, we were never winning the match until we had won it.

Pakistan lost three wickets in the first session of the day, but it did not mean we had carved out an unassailable position. We had been instructed to bowl tightly and did so. The home side were unfathomably cautious and I believe it cost them dear. Had they played more shots they would have scored 30 or 40 more runs and made it impossible for England to win. Only Shahid Afridi did so, and by then it was a panic measure.

If there was any single point when we realised that victory was possible it was when Moin Khan hit Craig White's slow full toss to Nasser Hussain at extra cover. Pakistan were then 160 ahead. Afridi proceeded to play a shot a ball, but a crazy run-out and a plumb lbw for Darren Gough ended the innings.

Not much was said in our dressing room during the changeover of innings. We were going to go for the runs; the batting order was changed to get the bigger hitters in early. The loss of three wickets with 65 on the board, still 111 short, prompted a revision of strategy. A couple more wickets and we could lose. This was no time for risks. Graham Thorpe and Graeme Hick played it beautifully. There were no big shots but they kept the board ticking over. It was smart, confident batting.

Again, Pakistan's tactics were strange. Thorpe is one of the game's greatest nurdlers, pushers, prodders and runners. He played superbly to those strengths, but Pakistan insisted on retaining a defensive field. By putting two or three men round the bat and having the rest some distance away - the old in-out field - they might have lured Thorpe into playing some shots and might have induced a mistake. We shall never know.

Thorpe and Hick and England had a plan to see it through until it started to darken and then, if we were still three down, play some attacking strokes. Pakistan seemed to be playing only for the dark, as though that would get them the draw. Their delaying tactics have been heavily criticised. England, it should be admitted, would probably have done something similar if the roles had been reversed. You don't give up matches lightly; it is what the opposition expect.

The umpires kept a firm grip on proceedings. Steve Bucknor made sure it was played by the book. But there were other, more sensible, bowling tactics Pakistan could have used - bumpers, wide balls, anything to make it difficult for the batsmen to hit and perfectly legitimate. They did not do that. They were playing for the dark and the dark did not rescue them.

The dressing room, rapt for three hours, was one of loud disbelief afterwards. Then we had to rush back to the hotel to pack and on to the airport. We had won a series and we were all weary, heading for home. The post-match was as surreal as the match itself. It was a surprise to be greeted at Heathrow airport by the ECB chairman, Lord MacLaurin, who had not been to Pakistan to see us play.

This was an astonishing win for England, one that epitomised the advances we have made. It is a good, confident, solid side and Pakistan knew that. It is a matter of believing in each other, of trusting the other man. You say to yourself: "Well, he's a good player, let him get on with it." It is like that with England now. I remember in Faisalabad when we were six down and Craig White went in. You just sensed there was no way Chalky was about to get out.

Once, in a three-match series we might have had seven or eight poor sessions and disappeared down the pan. We are still capable of bad sessions - we had two or three - but we are capable of pulling back from them. We are more resilient than we were, fit, we think, to compete in the highest company. Sri Lanka in the new year and Pakistan and Australia in the summer represent new challenges, but we are ready now to face them.

It has been a disappointing winter so far for me. I bowled better in the final Test without reward, and three wickets was short of par. I am ready to regroup for the Sri Lankans. I went shooting on Friday. I shot three pheasants out of 30. That is quite enough of things coming in threes.

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