England raise game to “poor”

A superb hundred from Younis Khan guided Pakistan to a two-wicket triumph over England at Southampton today, as another poor performance from the home side allowed a sub-par Pakistan to ease home. The narrow margin of the victory does not tell the full story of Pakistan’s control on the game – Younis and Mohammad Yousuf put on 167 for the third wicket before a late flurry of wickets. England were far superior to their other recent performances, but there were still gaping holes in their performance, which need to be filled if they are to progress.

The match began in dramatic fashion, after Inzamam’s decision to field first was vindicated in dramatic style. Shoaib Akhtar bowled Marcus Trescothick with the very first ball, a wicked inswinger that clipped both of the Somerset man’s pads before smashing into his off stump. Shoaib was dangerous early on, but Mohammad Asif struggled to find the form that he had shown earlier in the series. England captain Andrew Strauss succeeded in putting him off his rhythm by stepping down the wicket on a regular basis, twice striking him for four on opposite sides of the wicket.

Strauss and his new partner, Ian Bell, then settled into repairing the early damage in building a solid partnership throughout the first two Powerplays. The run-rate remained at over five an over, as Asif continued to look uncomfortable. Strauss thought he had smashed Asif for four down the ground at one stage, only to see the ball crash directly into the midriff of non-striker Bell, causing the Warwickshire man some understandable discomfort. Soon enough, however, Strauss was moving on to a well-earned half-century, as a few loose deliveries from Asif and his replacement Rana Naved allowed him to move to 50 off only 45 balls.

Immediately afterwards, however, he was the victim of his own newfound aggression, as he stepped down the pitch to a wide delivery from Abdul Razzaq and only succeeded in edging it to wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal. This brought Kevin Pietersen to the wicket, following England’s best start of the series, and he began in a characteristically aggressive mood. Twice he clipped Naved through the midwicket region for four, moving on to 20 at a run a ball without breaking a sweat. However, an attempt to work to leg a ball which was short and outside off stump proved his undoing – it also gave Naved his first wicket of a difficult series.

At the other end, Ian Bell had moved on to a classy but controlled 42, thanks to a superb lofted drive over mid-on – however, it was not long before he too had departed, caught by Hafeez at point off the bowling of Akhtar. At this point, England were in danger of folding, as they had done so many times in the past – at 125-4, Paul Collingwood and Jamie Dalrymple had some rebuilding to do.

Slowly but surely, the two bits-and-pieces all-rounders nudged and nurdled their way along through the middle overs, proceeding at a comfortable but steady rate. They stole singles well and rotated the strike regularly, and before anyone knew it, they had entered the last ten overs without losing another wicket. Their capacity for acceleration appeared limited, however, and although they never looked in danger of throwing away their wicket, they also were not always in total control over the bowlers.

Dalrymple had progressed to his second ODI half-century by the time the 44th over came around, but by the time it ended, he was walking back the pavilion having been bowled by Rana Naved. The Sussex paceman delivered a cracking inswinger which took out Dalrymple’s leg stump, ending a handy innings. Three balls later, new batsman Rikki Clarke was dismissed first ball by an equally good delivery from Razzaq, and England were imploding slightly again. Paul Collingwood progressed to his own half-century soon afterwards, but fell when trying to paddle-sweep Naved’s medium-pace, being caught by Shoaib Akhtar at short fine leg for 61.

Sajid Mahmood was run out without facing a ball, and Jon Lewis holed out for seven as England’s innings closed, but not before Chris Read had supplied a handy 21 not out, hitting two fantastic boundaries in a late-order innings which pushed England up towards 271-9. That was probably a par score on a good pitch, and although Pakistan’s bowlers were perhaps not in the sort of form they had shown earlier in the series, their shocking fielding gifted England plenty of runs throughout the innings. It is a problem that needs to be addressed if Pakistan are to challenge for next year’s World Cup.

Pakistan’s innings began in almost as poor a fashion as England’s, with Jon Lewis claiming the wicket of Shoaib Malik in his first over. Mohammad Hafeez blazed away at the other end, however, flashing that anything that moved outside off stump and blasting Lewis many rows back into the Rose Bowl stands. He followed that with a boundary as Pakistan seemed set to roar out of the blocks even faster than England had. However, a superb piece of fielding by Andrew Strauss cut them off just as they got going. The England skipper rushed in from extra cover, dived and threw underarm at the stumps to run out Hafeez. At 29-2, Pakistan were shaking, and it could have been worse had Mohammad Yousuf not failed to get a nick on a great ball from Lewis.

After the dismissal of Hafeez, Younis Khan began to come into his own. No England bowler was safe from punishment as Younis stroked, nurdled and occasionally carved his way through the middle overs, accompanied by Yousuf. Sajid Mahmood was once again the villain for England, leaking boundaries and extras all over the place as he struggled to cause the two experienced batsmen any problems. He was by no means the only guilty party, however, as both Rikki Clarke and Paul Collingwood looked unthreatening in conceding roughly six an over.

With Shoaib Malik having returned to the crease as a runner for the suffering Yousuf, England smelled the potential for a breakthrough in the form of a run-out – that looked their best chance of a wicket as their bowlers could not trouble the Younis-Yousuf partnership. Younis moved past fifty serenely, as Kevin Pietersen was brought into the attack by Strauss in the hope of sneaking a scalp somewhere. Despite four tidy if unthreatening overs from Pietersen, the run rate remained at a comfortable rate for Pakistan, with neither batsman taking any unnecessary risks.

Jamie Dalrymple succeeded in tying the batsmen down a little, but with bowlers leaking runs at the other end, he found it difficult to make any headway. Younis lofted Pietersen way over long-on for six, shortly before Yousuf drove him down the ground to reach a high-class half-century. This was put in the shade, however, by the scintillating hundred which Younis Khan reached shortly afterwards. Khan’s effort was only his second ODI hundred, but it was one of the best you could wish to see in the circumstances. His array of strokes was second to none, and although he holed out on 101 off the bowling of Stuart Broad, by then the majority of the work had been done.

Shortly afterwards, Yousuf chopped a delivery from Dalrymple ont his stumps, and when Sajid Mahmood removed Shahid Afridi for a duck soon afterwards, the game was alive again. Afridi’s dismissal was contentious, as the ball appeared to brush only his sleeve and not his bat – but England were not complaining. Inzamam struck Mahmood for six shortly after, but when Broad claimed the wickets of first Abdul Razzaq and then Kamran Akmal in successive balls, England appeared to be back in the hunt. The hat-trick ball was edged for four, but with only 16 runs needed at the time, England could ill afford that. Inzamam was guiding his team with aplomb, and he was proving a difficult obstacle to dislodge.

A miscalculation by Andrew Strauss had meant that England’s front-line bowlers had only four overs left between them when the last five overs came around, and when Mahmood pulled up with cramp, Rikki Clarke was left to bowl the penultimate over with only seven left to win. Clarke had bowled poorly until then, and did not look like improving on his previous record. Strauss’ captaincy let his side down again when he made the fatal mistake of leaving only three men inside the fielding circle, which remarkably went unnoticed by the umpires for one ball, before being realised at the next opportunity. Clarke was no-balled because of Strauss’ oversight, and the extra ball in the over was struck for four by Inzamam as Clarke dropped short for the umpteenth time in the day. Inzamam finished on 44 not out, and that was that – it was 2-0 to Pakistan after three matches in the series.

England had never looked at the races despite their late flurry of wickets , and Younis Khan’s superb century was the clincher as Pakistan walked off with the game, despite never being at their best. England’s ODI woes continue, and the likes of Clarke and Mahmood will be taking a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror, as will Andrew Strauss after his meandering and indecisive captaincy failed to inspire his troops. England are a mess, and it does not look like clearing up any time soon.

England 271-9 (50 overs)
Jamie Dalrymple 62, Paul Collingwood 61, Andrew Strauss 50, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan 4-57

Pakistan won by 2 wickets

Pakistan 274-8 (49 overs)
Younis Khan 101, Mohammad Yousuf 60, Stuart Broad 3-54

Cricket Web Player of the Match – Younis Khan, 101 (109 balls, 13×4, 1×6)

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