Advantage England on Day 1

Today saw England’s long-awaited return to competitive action since their unexpected Ashes triumph against Australia made it six successive series victories in the last two years. Pakistan had enjoyed limited success of late, but at home they remain a force to be reckoned with.

England, playing a test in Multan for the first time, as expected brought in Shaun Udal for his test debut, more than ten years after his last One Day International appearance. There was one real surprise in the Pakistan XI as they left out Shahid Afridi, selecting Danish Kaneria as their solitary spin option.

Pakistan won the toss and Inzamam-ul-Haq had no hesitation whatsoever in electing to have a bat on what looked to be a hard, straw-coloured beauty of a batting track. Marcus Trescothick’s only other appearance as England captain, against New Zealand in 2004, had been a victorious one but this was a different matter indeed.

Matthew Hoggard opened the bowling to Shoaib Malik and twice left the right-hander groping outside off stump with outswingers in his first over. In between, a short delivery was driven square to the fence as if to emphasise the importance of bowling a good length. Steve Harmison shared the new ball and started with a lively maiden to a very watchful Salman Butt.

Butt opened his own account with a flashing cover drive for four off Harmison’s second over, much to the delight of the sparse crowd, then a delightful straight drive by Malik further dented Hoggard’s figures. It was already threatening to be a long day for the fielding side before Malik turned his attention to Harmison, clipping him past square leg for his third boundary of the first half an hour.

Harmison produced a beauty to Shoaib Malik that rapped the batsman on the pads, unfortunately for the bowler a little too high to even raise umpire Bowden’s eyebrow let alone the famous crooked finger. At the first drinks interval, the home side had progressed quite serenely on to 28 without loss.

Fortune favoured Malik when he edged Hoggard down to third man for another boundary, then Trescothick introduced Andrew Flintoff into the attack in place of Steve Harmison. Salman Butt showed why he is held in such high regard with a delightfully wristy flick through the covers for his second boundary of the morning.

Butt further demonstrated his prowess outside off stump with another lovely stroke, this time an elegant cut to the boundary behind square, then when Flintoff erred in line Malik flicked uppishly past square leg. Another leg stump half volley received similar treatment as the Pakistan fifty was raised without so much as a hint of a scare.

Paul Collingwood was preferred to either of the spinners as second change, and his first ball saw Malik narrowly avoid offering a chance to Kevin Pietersen. The remainder of the over was food and drink to Salman Butt who found the fence twice with sumptuous drives dead square on either side of the wicket. The Pakistan scoring rate that had been so pedestrian in the first hour suddenly accelerated through the gears.

Collingwood settled down a little after his profligate first over as England seemingly sought to contain, even at this early stage, but anything errant in line or length just asked to be put away, a task the Pakistani openers achieved in some style. When the second drinks interval of the opening session was taken, they had moved on to 73-0.

Butt had a lucky escape when he flashed hard at a wide one from Flintoff, the ball barely evading the grasp of Strauss at second slip, then spin was introduced for the first time in the shape of Ashley Giles whose accurate opening over was treated with due respect by Malik.

The breakthrough came from a predictable source with the total on 80. Andrew Flintoff found sufficient movement to defeat Shoaib Malik’s defensive stroke and the opener was adjudged leg before wicket for 39. A full toss from Giles offered Younis Khan the chance to open his account and the vice-captain duly obliged with a crunching drive for four, a feat the batsman repeated two overs later.

Younis Khan continued to play Giles with ease and a classic cover drive brought him a third boundary in close order, taking Pakistan past 100 in the process. In the final over of the morning, the excellent Harmison found the outside edge of Salman Butt’s bat but the ball fell well short of Strauss in the slips. It was a rare moral victory for England in what had been an excellent morning for Pakistan.

Ashley Giles’s first ball after lunch was met on the front foot by Younis in great style, the ball whistling through the packed cover region for four. Salman Butt also lost little time in getting his own score ticking over with another typically wristy drive-cum-flick through cover when Flintoff gave him a fraction of width. Giles continued to struggle, repeatedly overpitching and leaking runs at an alarming rate.

Salman Butt went to a fine fifty with a neat turn off his hip down to fine leg. At this stage, Pakistan were accumulating runs without having to take any risks at all as they threatened to move into a position of dominance. Shaun Udal was introduced for his first bowl in test match cricket and Butt greeted him in unceremonious manner, launching his first ball high over mid off for four. The off spinner troubled the left hander later though, forcing the edge just wide of the fielder at slip.

Matthew Hoggard slipped in a surprise bouncer that troubled Butt, the ball just evading Udal at square leg, but it was the veteran debutant who came close to engineering the breakthrough with a real rip-snorter that lifted and turned past the outside edge as Butt groped forward. Following another impressive Udal maiden, the mid-session drinks interval was taken with Pakistan sitting pretty on 143-1.

Brilliant fielding by Pietersen on the deep square leg boundary kept Younis down to a single and helped England to maintain some semblance of pressure, but the shackles were broken by Butt who played an exquisite late cut to a ball from Hoggard that seamed back into him. The resultant boundary took Pakistan on to 150 with still only one wicket down.

The reintroduction of Flintoff, dealing in yorkers and balls of a fuller length, brought with it the first real evidence of reverse swing, but it also brought a boundary to Butt when a ball which left him in the air squeezed off the outside half of the bat through the unprotected regions of third man.

England’s policy of being patient and keeping things tight paid off with the total on 161 when Udal struck in unconventional manner. Salman Butt on 74 went for a slashing drive, the ball rebounded off Marcus Trescothick’s head at first slip and Geraint Jones took a brilliant diving catch on the rebound.

Mohammad Yousuf was very watchful when playing Udal, but was quick to pounce on perhaps the first bad ball the Hampshire man offered, a low full toss that was despatched through extra cover. When he faced up to the Flintoff yorker, though, he was late coming down on the ball which squeezed through on to his stumps for just 5. England were right back in the contest.

Home town boy and Pakistani captain Inzamam-ul-Haq came out to try to rebuild the innings in partnership with the almost becalmed Younis Khan, but with tea a quarter of an hour away, no risks was surely the order of the day. A single off Harmison served to get Inzamam’s innings on track, then a huge six over long on and a four through the covers brought his adoring home crowd to life and dented Udal’s figures somewhat.

England had fought back well in the afternoon session, and although Pakistan’s total of 181-3 at tea had the home side still in the box seats, the visitors were right back in the contest.

The very first ball after tea brought further joy for England as Steve Harmison brought one back off the seam, rapping Younis Khan (39) on the leg in front of off stump. Whether it was pad before bat or bat before pad, umpire Bowden had no doubt that the batsman had to go.

Five balls later, it was 183-5. Harmison produced a cracking full-length ball that totally defeated Hasan Raja’s airy-fairy drive, bowling him for a duck. Two balls prior to his dismissal, Raja had received a painful blow from a Harmison bouncer and that must surely have contributed a great deal to his ultimate demise.

New batsman Kamran Akmal was quick to move off the mark, pushing Udal for a single with a flourish, but it was vital for Pakistan that this pair, the last of the recognised batsmen, built a substantial partnership. A steady rotation of the strike brought rewards, and a fine drive by Akmal took the total past 200.

Akmal all but played on to Giles, attempting to cut a ball that wasn’t really short enough, before Harmison was possibly guilty of overdoing the short stuff to Akmal, conceding successive boundaries on the leg side. Inzamam remained watchful, content to nudge the occasional single and take few chances, although when he galloped half way down the pitch on one occasion before being sent back, there would have been more than a few home hearts in mouths.

As the day’s play approached its final hour, Inzamam decided to give Giles the treatment, clubbing him straight back over his own head for a rare boundary. Giles responded well, deceiving Akmal in the flight twice in an over, then for the first time in the game England resorted to spin at both ends in an attempt to throttle the scoring still further, content to play for tomorrow or the new ball.

Inzamam drove Udal firmly to mid on and jogged a single to raise the 50 partnership, a stand that had done much to undo the damage done in the hour either side of the tea interval. As the sun dipped towards the horizon, England chose to take the new ball, giving it to Flintoff who had been probably the pick of the bowlers.

It was Hoggard, though, who produced the magic ball, enticing the drive from Akmal (28), at what might have looked from his end to be a juicy half volley – until it swung late, found the edge and went straight to Marcus Trescothick at slip. Pakistan, at one time cruising on 161-1, were now 238-6 and in more than a bit of trouble. Two overs and six runs later, the umpires called ‘time’ with the gloom closing in.

Pakistan had made a terrific start during the first half of the day, but the latter half belonged decisively to England who had gone a long way to wresting the advantage of winning the toss from the home side. Much will depend upon how Inzamam-ul-Haq bats with the tail tomorrow if Pakistan are yet to be able to turn their early advantage back into their own favour.

Pakistan 244-6
Salman Butt 74, Inzamam-ul-Haq 41*, Mohammad Sami 1*
Harmison 2-37, Flintoff 2-49

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