Yousuf makes England pay

A resurgent Pakistan continued to belie the relative gulf, at least according to the ICC rankings, that exists between themselves and a post-Ashes England. After an intriguing second day of the third and final test match in Lahore, which team is actually on top in this game might have more to do with the results of an X-ray than any marks made by a scorer’s coloured pens.

England’s resumed on their overnight 248-6, with Paul Collingwood and Shaun Udal needing to put together some semblance of a recovery if they were to turn around the first day’s profligacy. It was Pakistan who were quickest out of the blocks however with Danish Kaneria requiring just three balls to remove Udal, who tamely turned the ball straight into the waiting hands of Asim Kamal at short leg.

Collingwood raised England’s 250 with a single to cover off the bowling of Shoaib Akhtar before debutant Liam Plunkett, the third of Durham’s triumvirate, opened his account in test match cricket with a single on the leg side. Rana Naved-ul-Hasan conceded the first boundary of the morning when Collingwood eased the ball through the covers as Pakistan looked to the seam department to close out England’s innings.

Shoaib took the new ball the moment it became available and gave Plunkett a torrid time, defeating the bat with every single delivery from his second over with the priceless object, but at the other end Collingwood profited again with boundaries in successive overs on both sides of the wicket as Rana continued to struggle.

With Collingwood having worked so hard to move to within four of his maiden test match hundred, Shoaib dug one in and the batsman finally took the bait. The ball flew off the top edge and Danish Kaneria took a comfortable catch at fine leg to give the speedster his first wicket of the innings, reducing England to 280-8. Shoaib Akhtar’s rather unflattering figures of 1-45 did him no justice at all.

Mohammad Sami brought Plunkett’s protracted vigil to a halt after almost an hour and a half of stubborn resistance, unluckily bowled off his pads for 9, then Harmison came and went within the space of one ball, an airy-fairy waft outside off stump giving Kamran Akmal a straightforward catch behind the wicket to bring to a close England’s first innings for a far from satisfactory 288.

England knew that if they were to stand any realistic chance of coming back in this game, they would have to strike quickly, and Hoggard gave them just the start they were looking for. Shoaib Malik, eager to get off the dreaded nought, turned the last ball of the first over uppishly off his pads to midwicket, straight into the waiting hands of Liam Plunkett.

Salman Butt notched up the first boundary of the Pakistan reply with a neat turn to leg when Hoggard erred in line, then new batsman Asim Kamal scored a boundary of his own through the covers as Flintoff dropped short outside off stump. When he had made just 5, he became Hoggard’s second victim on the stroke of lunch with barely a dozen on the board, rapped on the pad in front of middle and leg.

Hoggard resumed after lunch and troubled Mohammad Yousuf with one that swung back a little, but two balls later the bowler strayed down the leg side and conceded a boundary to square leg. It was imperative at this stage that England kept things tight and built pressure, but Pakistan were quick to seize the initiative.

Steve Harmison was introduced for the first time and conceded four to Salman Butt when Pietersen needlessly hurled the stumps down at the bowler’s end with the non-striker well home. If that boundary was fortunate, the next was sublime, the ball almost contemptuously driven past the bowler to the fence at mid on.

Yousuf was quick to pounce when Harmison overpitched, just leaning on the ball to send it racing to extra cover, but at the other end Flintoff defeated Salman Butt’s tentative push outside off stump as Pakistan continued to rebuild.

Harmison came close to removing Yousuf twice in an over when first of all a thick outside edge landed a fraction short of Collingwood at slip and raced away for four, then Flintoff grassed a relatively simple chance low down at slip. Harmison gave Salman Butt a fright with one that climbed alarmingly, the opening batsman doing well to nudge it to fine leg for a single.

Liam Plunkett was thrust into the firing-line for his first bowl in test match cricket to Salman Butt, who climbed all over an attempted bouncer, sending it high over midwicket for four. Yousuf too picked up a boundary when Plunkett strayed onto his pads before a single brought Butt into the firing-line once more.

Plunkett tried the bouncer to no avail then pushed his next ball fuller and wider. Butt, who had made 28, was unable to resist and sensing easy pickings, wafted outside the off stump in all-too-familiar manner. A split second later the ball nestled safely in the gloves of Geraint Jones, Pakistan were 68-3 and Liam Plunkett had his first test match victim.

Inzamam-ul-Haq opened his account with a couple off an unusually profligate Harmison, then Yousuf gave Plunkett plenty of food for thought with a sumptuous cover drive and a neat turn off his hip for successive boundaries. In the following over he turned his attention to Harmison, a sweetly-timed push defeating the sprawling Vaughan at mid on.

Matthew Hoggard was recalled with England desperate to make further inroads and following a long hop that was rightly punished, he had Yousuf flailing outside off stump without finding the edge. The same batsman was all at sea against Harmison too when a leading edge fell safely short of the cover fielders.

Mohammad Yousuf’s streaky innings was fast turning into something of a Curate’s egg and he moved past 50 with a brilliant cover drive off a perfectly good ball from Hoggard, then a single to fine leg took the home side’s reply into three figures. He continued to enjoy a huge measure of good fortune though with a boundary off Flintoff that flew off the inside edge and narrowly avoided the stumps.

England introduced the off spin of Shaun Udal but in his first over the bowler dropped short to Inzamam who cut the ball with ease to the boundary at backward point. The fourth wicket partnership between the two fine Pakistani stroke-makers was once again proving costly for the visitors, and it progressed beyond 50 when Yousuf on-drove Flintoff to the fence.

Inzamam was severe on Udal with the spinner dropping short far too often, smashing boundaries on both sides of the wicket as Pakistan threatened to take real command for the first time in the innings. First Plunkett was thrown back into the fray with England desperate for a breakthrough, then Paul Collingwood was brought on to see whether he could produce a rabbit out of the hat with his gentle seamers, but as tea approached the batsmen seemed set.

Another effortless cover drive by Inzamam took further toll on Collingwood’s figures, and with the partnership having reached 79 at much better than four runs an over, the batsmen trooped off for a well-earned cuppa on 147-3, safe in the knowledge that the advantage in both match and series now lay with the home side in no uncertain terms.

The evening session started with the hitherto luckless Steve Harmison bowling to Inzamam-ul-Haq, a broad man with a seemingly even broader bat. The final ball of the first over following the resumption brought drama though, rapping the Pakistani captain a fearful blow just above wrist. After lengthy treatment to an angry-looking bump, he had to leave the field with 35 to his name and a date with the aforementioned X-ray machine to follow, to be replaced at the crease by Hasan Raza.

Plunkett strayed onto the batsman’s pads and Raza duly accepted the gift of a ‘help yourself’ boundary to get off the mark past midwicket, a classic case of looking a gift horse in the mouth if ever there was one. The batsman struck another delightful boundary through the covers, but at the other end Yousuf was finding Harmison an altogether more difficult proposition, first edging through the slip cordon then playing and missing outside off stump.

The reintroduction of Flintoff served to throttle the scoring rate somewhat, the Lancastrian all-rounder conceding just a couple of singles from his first two overs. Harmison attacked Raza with gusto and six close catchers in attendance, but the batsman successfully repulsed everything hurled in the direction of his rib-cage. We waited for the ball outside off stump that was surely going to come, sooner rather than later.

When Flintoff tried similar tactics, the ball sat up and asked to be spanked to midwicket, and Raza duly obliged. If that stroke was a little agricultural, what followed two balls later was straight out of the coaching manual, the ball racing away past cover point with fielders giving up the pursuit before they had so much as raised a trot.

With Raza having made 21, Steve Harmison ably demonstrated what an intelligent bowler he has become. The batsman, having dined exclusively on a diet of balls into the ribs for half an hour, went hard at the token offering tantalisingly presented outside off stump and edged, straight to Andrew Flintoff in the gulley to reduce Pakistan to 180-4. The gulley that was present for Raza was conspicuous by its absence when Yousuf played Plunkett in similar manner though, and a single was the result.

If one stroke remains ingrained in the memory from the day’s play, it is none other than the Mohammad Yousuf signature cover drive. In what turned out to be the final over of the day, he displayed it for the umpteenth time, signed with a flourish as he moved on to 84, and all Harmison could do was frown and nod in appreciation. If England needed a timely reminder of the importance of taking their chances, they only need to look at the scorebook.

England 288 all out
Collingwood 96, Vaughan 58, Trescothick 50
Shoaib Malik 3-58
Pakistan 185-4
Mohammad Yousuf 84*

Pakistan trail by 103 with 6 wickets in hand.

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