|The cogs turning in Andrew Strauss' head|
After a 12 hour shift at work and the night before the 4th Test starts at Lord's, it seems as though this would be a good time to write my report on the 3rd Test at the Oval. Cast your minds back to the last two games, where Pakistan demonstrated the skills of a poor school boy side in comparison with England's ruthless ability. I hope you can forgive me for already pondering about certain lines that I could include in this article as I was trapped in complacency, thinking that lightning could strike three times. Let's face it, anyway... You wouldn't bet against it. However, cricket has proved, once again, that it can be a funny old game, so my original plans of laying into Pakistan for being weak, inexperienced and brittle have gone out the window.
Let's start at the beginning. England captain, Andrew Strauss, duly won the toss and elected to bat, on what looked like a typically flat Oval wicket. England, having a good record of late on this ground, would have been keen to get off to a solid start, with the skipper himself and the questionable Alistair Cook opening up for England as usual. However, Mohammad Asif, Pakistan's most consistent bowler this tour, had other plans, dismissing Cook in the second over caught behind for 6. Pakistan, on song for once, continued to rip through the top and middle order that morning and reduced the hosts to 94-7. Matt Prior then proved why he should be England's top choice keeper/batsman for The Ashes with a battling 84 not out, bumping England up to 233 after 62.3 overs. Debutant, Wahab Riaz, took 5-63 and though jubilant in celebration, could not match up to Zulqurnain Haider's half century party, which included floor kissing, helmet raising, arms aloofing and grinning like a cheshire cat to the dressing room and the world media.
Pakistan's first innings began strongly with the first pair, Farhat and Hameed putting on 48 for the first wicket. The first eight Pakistani batsman made it into double figures, implying that they got in and then could not capitalise. The Pakistan Cricket Board must have been glad that they decided to eat their words on the lifetime ban on Mohammad Yousuf, when he made a useful 56 before getting out caught and bowled to Graeme Swann. Azhar Ali missed out on his maiden test hundred with an unbeaten 92, as the Pakistan tail crumbled around him. Pakistan were eventually dismissed for 308 after 100.2 overs giving them a first innings lead of 75.
It was good to see England under a little bit of pressure going into their second innings, especially as Strauss departed early for 4 in the first over. Finally, after so much pain and grief, Alistair Cook fought to make his 13th Test hundred and almost certainly booked his ticket to Australia this winter. The secret to his success? "I went out there and just tried to hit the ball" Cook commented. Simple game, cricket is. The Essex man went to his hundred in an extremely strange fashion, when Asif, obviously watching my beautiful throwing technique, lobbed the ball over the keeper's head for four, just after Cook had patted it down the pitch just moments before. Rather disappointingly, the term "brittle" has started to apply to England as well as Pakistan, because, despite Cook's ton, nobody else made any serious runs and England were suddenly bowled out for 222 after 77 overs with the last six batsmen failing to make it into double figures.
Now, Pakistan smelling blood were set a low target of 148 runs to win. England, in particular, know how low targets can be tricky to chase, and having bowled out Pakistan for under a hundred twice in this series already, there was still some hope for an England win. Hameed failed first ball, his game ending by another James Anderson swinger, when Pakistan were on only 5. Farhat and captain Butt got Pakistan up to 57 before the second wicket was taken by Swann. However, Pakistan made it fairly easily over the line without too much trouble with 4 wickets in hand after 41.4 overs. I never thought I'd be writing: Pakistan win by four wickets.
On balance, I think it can be said that England losing is probably a good thing with The Ashes in mind. Yes, it would be nice for a series whitewash, but England cannot afford to become lazy and complacent just before such an important tour. This loss just might give England a good kick up the backside and remind them that cricket can be a difficult game at times, especially down under, where cricket can be described as anything but easy. Looking ahead to the next Test, starting tomorrow at the home of cricket, England will want to learn from as many lessons as possible, as their next test will be somewhat sterner against the wounded animal that is Australia.