Pakistan have the last laugh
A second century in two days for Nick Knight was not enough to give England a clean sweep in the Texaco Trophy. Instead, Pakistan, playing three debutants, beat the home side by two wickets with two balls to spare. A frenetic curtsey from a side which has dominated this summer.
Provided they weren't bowled out, Pakistan needed six runs off the last over, which Atherton had entrusted to Adam Hollioake. As adrenalin surged and eyeballs grew stalks, Saqlain heaved and was caught off the first. Crucially, for the visitors, it gave Rashid Latif the strike and it was he, after scrambling a two, who essentially won the game for his side when he struck Hollioake's third ball - a long-hop - to the cover boundary.
It was an unfortunate end to another good bowling performance by the Surrey vice- captain, whose 4-45 here went with the 4-23 he took at Edgbaston on Saturday. His ability to vary his pace is a priceless asset when bowling at the death. So too is his capacity to absorb pressure, and he will learn more from that single rank ball than he will from a whole spell in less trying circumstances.
The series may have been serenely settled on Saturday, but it was yesterday's game, with its surges and last minute swings which showcased the one-day ethic as a whole, and which goes some way towards explaining its mass appeal. Although it finished in fading light, you could almost smell and taste the tension, and most home spectators, despite the impending prospect of supper, had already set about chewing their fingers and nails.
England might have pulled it off as well, had Pakistan's last recognised batsman Latif been given run out off the last ball of the 48th over. The television replay, seen from two angles, showed the batsman was just out of his ground, as Atherton's underarm throw lifted the bail. However, the third umpire Ray Julien remained unconvinced and Latif, who had already made his way disconsolately to the Pavilion steps, was given in.
But if Latif was the man who saw the victory through, Saeed Anwar with 61 off 59 balls and Ijaz Ahmed with 59, were its main instigators. Nobody except Brian Lara can manipulate a delivery like Saeed. When he wasn't puncturing the off-side field at will, he was whipping to leg and Alan Mullally - who went for eight an over off his first six overs - simply could not bowl to him.
However, having won the toss and batted, England were more indebted to Knight whose unbeaten 125 was once again the vital spine of the innings. Of the other batsmen only Atherton made much of a score, and that came in two parts after Pakistan's teenage debutant Shahid Nazir hit the batsman's thumb with a pacey second ball.
Amazingly, this was Knight's third one-day international and already he has more centuries than anyone else in the England squad, including Atherton and Stewart, who each have one apiece.
But if the familiar surroundings of Edgbaston acted as comfort blanket and inspiration on Saturday, it was the benevolent hand of lady luck which assisted him yesterday, when Ijaz Ahmed dropped him off a miscued pull when he was on 23.
That blip aside, his innings was brilliantly executed, starting with a flurry of daring shots which were reigned in once the 15 over restrictions ended and partners began to depart with monotonous regularity. He is that rare thing, an adaptable player who thinks on his feet.
Knight, schooled and nurtured by Essex, moved to Warwickshire two seasons ago, where the Dermot Reeve finishing school added confidence and versatility to a restless will. Scoring successive one-day centuries smacks of some very "un-English" precocity and has not been done since 1985, when Graham Gooch achieved the feat at home against Australia.
David Gower also achieved it in 1983, where consecutive hundreds against New Zealand in the world series, helped him win the coveted international cricketer of the year. Knight does not have Gower's casual brilliance, but there is no slack either; a habit that makes him closer to Gooch than he would have cared admit a year ago, when he had just left Essex.
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