Report by Neil Robinson 18/06/03
The past week has been one of change and renewal for cricket in England. Firstly, last weekend the new Twenty20 Cup got underway in an atmosphere of festivity beneath blazing blue skies, then on Tuesday, in the first of the three-match NatWest Challenge between England and Pakistan, both teams unveiled radically new line-ups as they seek to rebuild following the recent World Cup in South Africa. For England there were one-day debuts for Anthony McGrath, Jim Troughton and Rikki Clarke. For Pakistan there was no Wasim, Waqar, Inzamam or Saqlain. Their key performances were to come from youngsters Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik. Only three players over the age of 30 took the field, one of them, Darren Gough, making a welcome return after an absence of twelve months. The youthful exhuberance on display produced some exciting performances, but inexperience was also clearly visible as England threw away a fine start to stumble to 204 for 9 before Pakistan almost managed to self destruct on the way to what should have been an easy victory.
Amid a cacophony of blaring horns being blown by the thousands of Pakistan fans who had streamed into Manchester from the old mill towns of Lancashire and West Yorkshire to make up a good 60% of the crowd, England won the toss and chose to bat. They got off to a flyer, Trescothick and Solanki taking 37 off the first 5 overs. By the time the fielding restrictions ended after 15 overs, the hosts were still going strong on 96 for 3, but this was to be the high water mark of Englandís innings. Troughton fell for 6 on his debut, Vaughan followed soon afterwards for 27. With runs on the board and plenty of overs left, it was not panic stations yet and as Flintoff and McGrath batted sensibly through the next few overs it seemed a sizeable total was still in the offing.
But, when Flintoff, just starting to motor; holed out to Yasir Hameed at deep mid-wicket for 39, panic took hold of England. Rikki Clarke lasted only two balls before an awful, ugly pre-meditated sweep saw him bowled behind his legs. Chris Read, shaping well, suddenly heaved a massive slog-sweep down to deep square-leg and was gone for 5. Ashley Giles then ran himself out and all of a sudden Anthony McGrath, having batted so calmly yet again, found himself left with Gough at the other end and only Anderson left in the hutch. The two Yorshiremen played it safe, taking the singles and seeing England to the verge of 200 before McGrath fell attempting a reverse sweep in the 47th over. It was more respectable than it might have been, but it never looked like enough.
Much credit for this must go to Pakistanís captain Rashid Latif, for defying convention and keeping the field in close to restrict the singles and take whatever catches might be offered, a tactic he was to continue throughout the innings. England found run scoring difficult against disciplined bowling and a ball that had gone prematurely soft. Shaoib Malikís off-spin was particularly challenging and with Mohammad Sami regularly clocking near 150kph, Pakistan always looked like taking wickets. Nonetheless, too many of Englandís batsmen made starts without capitalising upon them. Vikram Solanki in particular played quite beautifully for his 36 off 36 balls and was unlucky in getting out to a ball from Hafeez, which kept low and caught him on the back foot. Trescothick too was a victim of good bowling. But, neither Vaughan nor Flintoff will look back on their dismissals with any fondness.
It was a difficult baptism for Vaughanís captaincy. Englandís total, he later admitted was ďsome 30-40 shortĒ and when Imran Nazir and Mohammad Hafeez batted with exemplary technique and tempo to put on 60 for the first wicket, a thorough thrashing seemed inevitable. It didnít look any better when the second wicket fell, Yasir Hameed having added 56 with Hafeez before lofting Giles to mid-on where McGrath took a fine running catch. Pakistan were cruising, England dead in the water. Then the visitors seemed to mistake the floating corpse for an iceberg.
A brilliant turn and direct-hit from Vaughan at cover ran Yousuf Youhana out by a yard, then Anderson produced a sharp nip-backer, which clipped the top of Younis Khanís middle stump before he had scored. A scooped catch to Clarke at mid-wicket off Anderson again then accounted for Hafeez for a fine 69 and Pakistan had slumped to 158 for 8. From being out of the match, England now were on a roll with two new batsmen at the crease and the whiff of panic in the air. It was time to twist the knife.
But, Vaughanís blade seemed to have gone missing. Just when he needed to go on the attack, Vaughan continued to try to build pressure by containment. It is a common error among modern English captains in this form of the game, one highlighted by Nasser Hussainís failure to bring in the field against Australia in the World Cup, when only three wickets remained and the Aussies were still 90 runs shy of the target. It is difficult to imagine how any international side, save perhaps Bangladesh, could be restricted to under 204 without being bowled out. To illustrate this, even if England had begun by bowling nothing but dot balls, it would still have taken until the end of the 16th over before the required rate crept up to the 6 runs per over level at which pressure might just have started to tell. England needed wickets, dots just werenít enough.
There was nothing wrong with the England players in the field. They were sharp and determined, Troughton and Solanki looking especially lively and only one chance went down, Trescothick shelling Hafeez at mid-on when he had made 22. Gough, Flintoff and Giles were all models of accuracy and craftiness, with Gough looking back to his ebullient best. Anderson recovered well after an early mauling by Nazir and Clarke bagged the wicket of Nazir with his first ball in international cricket, to enliven an otherwise disappointing debut. But, Vaughanís tactics were simply too negative, the late wickets that almost brought an upset for England more the product of Pakistani nerves and English opportunism than any forethought on the captainís part.
Azhar Mahmood and Shoaib Malik, edged the visitors closer before Malik skied a Gough slower ball to mid-off. 181 for 6. Anderson then unleashed the classic inswinging yorker to have Latif lbw for 1. 188 for 7. Then, when the irrepressible Gough forced Azhar into a loose pull, which Troughton dived to catch at mid-on, England were joyous. It was 194 for 8. However, it was too late. Abdul Razzaq and Mohammad Sami, held their nerve and saw Pakistan home by 2 wickets in the final over. They had deserved the win for a more professional team performance in the middle of the game, as Mohammad Hafeez deserved the man-of-the-match award for his crucial 69.
Both teams now head for The Oval on Friday 20 June, before the final match in the series at Lordís on Sunday 22 June. From what we have seen from both sets of youngsters, there could yet be much excitement to savour over the weekend. But, the opening match demonstrated clearly how much they have yet to learn.
They are not alone. Hopefully the ECB will learn from their folly after wasting thousands of pounds hiring floodlights for a day-night game, played way up north in Manchester, just four days from the summer equinox; when it doesnít get properly dark until gone 10pm. Thatís poor planning fellas!
England 204 for 9 (Flintoff 39, Shoaib Malik 3 for 26)
Pakistan 208 for 8 (Mohammad Hafeez 69, Anderson 3 for 59)
Pakistan won by 2 wickets.
Man of the Match: