Inzy, Afridi wow Faisalabad

A breathtaking undefeated whirlwind 67 by the man from the Khyber Agency, the irrepressible Shahid Afridi, was the cherry on top of some very sweet fare indeed served up by the Pakistani middle order against England at Faisalabad today. The visitors struck three times in the first session, but a brutal assault by the cavalier Afridi dismantled all England’s good work late in the day.

The home side showed two changes from last week with mercurial Shahid Afridi coming in for Hasan Raza and Naved-ul-Hasan in place of the troubled Shabbir Ahmed. England welcomed the return of captain Michael Vaughan, following his knee injury, and he replaced Paul Collingwood from the side that had lost the first test match. Pakistan won the toss and Inzamam-ul-Haq had no hesitation in electing to bat on a wicket that was totally devoid of so much as a single blade of grass.

Matthew Hoggard found very early swing but suffered a little at the hands of Shoaib Malik, the ball in turn racing to the cover boundary then evading the flailing outside edge. Andrew Flintoff started with a wild one down the leg side which went to the boundary for byes, then Salman Butt played a fine on drive to register his first boundary.

Flintoff found the edge of Salman Butt’s bat but the ball fell short of Marcus Trescothick in the slips before racing to the boundary at third man. By and large though, despite one or two slight alarms, the Pakistani openers were looking very secure against the England seamers on what looked to be a dream of a batting track.

England turned to Ashley Giles but Salman Butt was determined to give him no time at all to settle, coming down the wicket to loft the ball high over mid off for six, and when Shoaib Malik performed the same feat moments later, Michael Vaughan took a more defensive approach with his field placings.

Steve Harmison produced the first maiden of the innings to Malik, but it had taken fully an hour to achieve even that small success. Giles, meanwhile, was still leaking runs as Butt played him easily through the leg side to bring up the half century opening partnership before Harmison made the breakthrough.

Keeping the ball well up to the bat, the big Durham opener found a little away movement, just enough to find the outside edge of Butt’s defensive stroke and Geraint Jones took the simplest of catches to dismiss the first test centurion for 26.

Andrew Flintoff gave Younis Khan an early wake-up call at the crease, twice fielding well and hurling the wickets down with the batsman just back in his ground before Vaughan dispensed with the early Giles experiment and started rotating his seamers in short spells again.

Younis Khan edged Hoggard for another boundary but the return of Andrew Flintoff brought more success for England as the same batsman clipped his first ball straight to Kevin Pietersen, who took a sharp catch at midwicket to reduce the home side to 63-2.

England’s all-round talisman had a hand – just the one – in the third wicket to fall too, and it was as spectacular as they come. Hoggard produced a well-disguised slower delivery outside Shoaib Malik’s off stump and the opener smashed the ball uppishly into the covers. Flintoff, at short extra cover, immediately took off and hauled in a simply stunning catch.

New batsmen Mohammad Yousuf and Inzamam-ul-Haq contented themselves with survival until lunch, a feat they successfully achieved, but not without one or two alarms on the way. Flintoff found the edge of Inzamam’s bat but the ball fell agonisingly short of slip, then Giles rapped Yousuf on the pad in front of middle stump, but despite his creditably enthusiastic appeal he had done insufficient to convince Simon Taufel.

At lunch, Pakistan had moved on to 87-3, numbers the visitors would have been delighted to take at the start of the morning’s play.

The afternoon session saw Ashley Giles tossing the ball up to Mohammad Yousuf, who became the third batsman to launch the bowler back over his own head for six. When the spinner dropped short to Inzamam-ul-Haq in his following over, the Pakistan captain brought the hundred up with a flourish, square on the off side.

Once again the profligate Giles had been belted out of the attack after just a couple of overs. Yousuf drew cheers from the crowd with the first boundary off the hitherto miserly Steve Harmison, a super shot that bisected the fielders in the packed cover region. Inzamam too was quick to punish anything wayward, pulling Flintoff for four through midwicket.

Andrew Flintoff came within an inch of capturing the prize scalp of Inzamam, that distance being a measure of how close the ball fell in front of Andrew Strauss in the gulley. Two balls later, a pull past square leg took the partnership to fifty. Superb timing brought Yousuf another boundary with no more than a push, the ball evading the diving Giles in the gulley and streaking across the parched outfield as the batsmen repaired much of the early damage.

Shaun Udal whirled away for half an hour, conceding barely a handful of singles before he dropped only fractionally short to the powerful Inzamam who simply clubbed the ball over midwicket for four, then Ian Bell because the sixth bowler to be employed, his gentle medium pacers wobbling a little but troubling neither batsman at this stage.

Inzamam was fortunate to survive a huge appeal when he played across the line to Shaun Udal and was struck on the back leg in front of middle stump. It could only have been the height that saved the batsman, but frankly it looked a bit of a shocker. England then compounded their problems when Geraint Jones spurned a difficult leg-side chance to remove Yousuf off the bowling of Bell.

Yousuf eased Bell through the leg side with the minimum of effort for another boundary as he sought to make England pay for the life he had been granted, then when Inzamam eased Hoggard away for a couple, he took Pakistan past 150 for the loss of just three wickets and in the process made batting on this track look as easy as shelling peas.

The return of Harmison saw Yousuf progressing to his fifty with a sumptuous front foot drive through extra for four as Pakistan firmly established themselves in the ascendancy. When Hoggard was recalled into the firing line for a solitary over, Yousuf showed deft touches with successive boundaries to third man and fine leg, and followed those up with a sweetly timed cover drive to raise the hundred partnership, the ninth the pair had shared in test cricket.

With a single over to go before tea, Vaughan gave the innocuous Giles another try, but this one went the way of so many others, played in total comfort by the batsmen before the final ball prior to the interval was launched into the crowd by Mohammad Yousuf. It was a fitting end to a session that had brought the home side 102 runs at no cost, allowing Pakistan to sit down to tea on 189-3.

The first ball back after tea saw Flintoff, from around the wicket, defeat Inzamam-ul-Haq’s tentative defensive push outside off stump, but at the other end poor fare from Bell gifted Inzamam a ‘help yourself’ four behind square on the off side. The Pakistani skipper then drove Flintoff for four through extra cover to bring up the 200.

With the fourth wicket pairing seemingly set fair, it required something remarkable to break the partnership and England produced it courtesy of Ian Bell. Yousuf drove the ball straight and the part-timer took off to his right and held what looked to be a brilliant diving catch just clear of the ground. Replays later revealed that the ball might well have been spilled, but the television umpire had not been called upon to adjudge one way or another.

Shahid Afridi was next man in and he immediately launched into Bell, cracking three successive boundaries, two with straight drives and one with a square cut to signal his intent to take the fight to England in no uncertain terms. Inzamam then pushed a single to square leg to move to his third half century of the series.

Vaughan withdrew Bell from the attack and immediately turned to his fastest bowler, but when Harmison tried a slower one to Afridi, the ball disappeared twenty rows back into the cheering throng at long on. Inzamam joined in on the run feast, plundering a boundary of his own through midwicket when Flintoff strayed fractionally straight.

Drinks were taken with the innings very much at the crossroads on 232-4, a position which could equally see Pakistan disappear without trace or Afridi take the game away from England in an hour. Harmison gave Afridi a painful blow in the ribs upon the restart, but when he tried to repeat the exercise, the slugger was waiting for it and simply thrashed the ball past square leg to continue his run-a-ball assault on the England bowlers.

England should have removed Shahid Afridi when he had scored 35. Afridi slapped at a short ball from Hoggard, straight to Michael Vaughan at short cover who inexplicably grassed the straightforward chance. Afridi celebrated at the start of the next over by hitting Udal for two sixes, one straight back over the bowler’s head on to the top of the grandstand, the next over square leg.

Inzamam was playing beautifully, his cover drive an absolute jewel of a shot, but it was Afridi who was bringing the crowd to their feet time and time again. When Hoggard dropped fractionally short, he was on it in a flash, pulling hard to bring up his fifty in no time at all.

With the close of play drawing near, Afridi gave no signs of letting up and playing for tomorrow, charging down the track to Udal and sending the ball way back into the crowd again. Inzamam seemed to get a little carried away with it all and aimed a smear of his own into the deep, the projectile falling just short of Hoggard at long on.

England’s frustration continued when Afridi edged Flintoff through the unoccupied regions of first slip, but it was the batsman’s complete dominance that had earned the right to have that gap in the field. With the 80th over passed, England grabbed the new ball as if it were a lifeline, and it so nearly proved effective immediately as Hoggard beat Afridi outside the off stump.

From the final delivery of the over, Afridi skewed the ball over cover for a couple to take the Pakistan total up to 300 and the partnership to 99. It was the final action of a hectic last session as the umpires offered the light to the batsmen who were immediately off, headed for the sanctuary of the pavilion.

Pakistan 300-4
Inzamam-ul-Haq 80*, Mohammad Yousuf 78, Shahid Afridi 67*

Pakistan lead the 3 match series 1-0

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