Monday, August 21, 2006

Game Sacrificed On The Altar Of Egos

Everybody involved in the confrontation between umpire Shakoor Rana and Mike Gatting in 1987 and its aftermath emerged with a tarnished reputation. Yesterday’s events at the Oval threaten to do the same.

In protest at the umpires’ decision to award five penalty runs to England for alleged ball tampering, Pakistan refused to take the field after tea. They should have learned from Sir Don Bradman’s wise advice in 1987, “you should wait until after the day’s play to make your protest.” The umpires then with jobsworthian vigour warned the Pakistan team that if they continued to refuse to play they would forfeit the match. By exercising the letter of the law, the umpires ignored its more diplomatic spirit. The point of no return had been reached; with the pride of the officials and the players at stake the game was always going to be the loser.

At this stage the powers-that-be should have informed the media and the crowd what was going on. Everyone should have realised that when the umpires removed the bails the match was over. This would have highlighted the pointlessness of Pakistan’s decision to finally take the field 30 minutes later. The good-natured crowd naturally thought play was about to finally re-start and it is to their credit they did not adversely react to being cheated out of a third of the day’s play.

So from being 33 runs in arrears, with only 6 second innings wickets remaining, England have astonishingly won the final test and with it the series 3-0. The second and third tests were won through cricketing ability but the final test was won via a dispute between the opposition and the officials that they had nothing to do with.

Perhaps those responsible for this debacle should consider what GK Chesterton’s Great Scorer, has made of all this.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Pakistan Ease England's Progress

It shouldn't have been that easy. England played well and the pitch was becoming increasingly treacherous, but 155 all out serves to exaggerate both these factors. Pakistan played badly and contributed to their downfall.

Pakistan needed to negotiate the new ball, but throughout this series their openers have been little more than the hors d'oeuvre to the main course of the middle order. Today was no exception as injudicious stroke-play ensured that both openers were back in the pavilion with barely 50 on the board. With Inzamam's injury forcing him to bat no higher than 7, the partnership between Yousuf and Khan was always going to be crucial. This partnership had contributed 363 in the first innings and if it been unbroken at lunch the result could have been very different.

Collingwood's acrobatic dive to run out Yousuf was the turning point of the match, as it ensured that the soft underbelly of Pakistan's lower middle order was exposed to a hard ball, which was barely 20 overs old. However, this should not disguise the fact that it was a senseless run; Collingwood did well but he was only a few yards from the wicket, with, I would estimate, at least three-quarters of the stumps to aim at. In the closing stages of a one-day game it would have been a foolish run, on the final morning of a test match it was verging on the insane.

In this game trouble has come in twos for Pakistan, with two run outs in their first innings and two dropped catches by Akmal in England's second. The second run out in the second innings was even more of a gift than the first, as Pietersen had time to underarm the ball to Mahmood who broke the stumps with the hesitant Sami still a yard short of his ground.

The match was completed when Inzamam walked out of his crease and took a lazy inaccurate heave at a Panesar delivery. He did not even try and regain his ground as Read completed the stumping.

This new look England have completed their first series victory since the Ashes and have cemented their place as the second best team in the world. Bring on the Aussies!

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Tale of Two Wicket-Keepers

It is hard to believe that we go into the final day of this Test with all three results possible despite the fact that both teams scored over 500 in their first innings. England's position would be far worse if it hadn't been for the diverging fortunes of the two glove men.

Akmal had a torrid day behind the stumps; he dropped Trescothick twice in consecutive overs whilst he was on single figures. The first chance was a bad miss down the leg-side but the second drop was a regulation catch that would cost a village wicket-keeper at least one round of drinks. At first glance he seemed to partly atone for these errors by catching Bell off an inside edge. However, the slow motion replay provided an ironic twist. It appeared that Akmal lost control of the ball as he dived. Only Akmal will know for certain, but with Bell's highly dubious caught and bowled dismissal of Yousuf in the winter in mind, many Pakistan fans will see this as poetic justice.

Bell's departure brought Chris Read to the crease, who batted positively to score 55 from 84 deliveries. He shared a 51 stand with Collingwood and then marshalled the tail to ensure that the England innings subsided rather than collapsed from 299-6 to 345 all out. It is hard to imagine Jones playing such an innings and Read's form in this match has fully justified the selectors belated decision to include him in the team.

The failure of England's usually reliable middle order ensured that the journalists have been denied the opportunity to criticise Strauss for delaying a declaration. However, the pitch is still a good one and I expect that the same scribes will be commentating on overly defensive field placing and slow over rates. Whether Pakistan can gain revenge for England's victory in the twilight of Karachi in 2001 remains to be seen.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Is This Really Headingley?

Before this test match started I tried to recall what usually happens at Headingley. My memory told me that scores over 300 are rare and providing the weather doesn't intervene, a result is inevitable.

England made 515 and Pakistan are currently 202-2 in reply and a draw is the most likely result.

I also recalled that it is a pitch which favours medium pace swing and seam bowlers. Neil Mallender won the match for England here in 1992, only to be unceremoniously dropped after struggling on a good Oval pitch; he was never selected again. It is a suprise then that, whilst all bowlers have found wickets hard to come by, it is the spinners who have had the most control and the best economy rates.

I now expect that the Oval will provide a slow turning pitch.