England self destruct

England threw away a golden opportunity to post the sort of total that would allow them to dominate this test match. By the close of play, they had reached a wholly inadequate 248 for 6, despite a fine unbeaten 71 from Paul Collingwood. Never mind the controversies over certain bowlers who may be guilty of throwing the ball. Many England supporters will now want to see the ICC take a much tougher line taken against batsmen who chuck their wickets away. On a blameless pitch, they regularly lost wickets to ill-judged or poorly executed shots and they must now hope that their bowlers are able to take advantage of a relatively inexperienced Pakistani batting line-up. For that to happen, they will need to perform far, far better than the batsmen managed today.

Both sides showed two changes from Faisalabad. Pakistan included Hasan Raja instead of the suspended Afridi and Asim Kamal replaced Younis Khan, who was absent after the tragic loss of his brother. For England, as expected, Collingwood returned to cover Andrew Strauss’ paternity leave, with Vaughan returning to the top of the order. In addition, Liam Plunkett was picked to replace the injured Giles. As England’s spinners have been thoroughly innocuous on this tour, the selection of an additional quick bowler was always on the cards, and Plunkett’s performance in the first warm-up game gave him the nod ahead of James Anderson.

England won the toss and, given the moisture in the wicket, it may have crossed Vaughan’s mind to give his bowlers the benefit of what would possibly be the most favourable conditions that the bowlers are likely to find in this test. However, he elected to bat, probably mindful of the need to put a big score on the board in order to put some pressure on the home side, and also to avoid batting last once again. However, batting was not easy at first, and Vaughan in particular was extremely lucky to survive. Naved bowled quite beautifully, expertly exploiting conditions and extracting significant movement. He beat the edge of Vaughan’s bat three times in quick succession – maybe the batsman just isn’t in good enough touch at present to get close to those. However, at the other end, Trescothick was a model of serenity. It took him 27 balls to get off the mark, and, having taken a look at the bowling, he then settled back into his newly acquired imperious groove.

As conditions eased, runs began to flow. Trescothick was able to enjoy himself against the slightly older ball, and he raced along with a succession of trademark drives and pulls. At the other end, Vaughan benefited from the lack of support for Naved, with Mohammad Sami’s assortment of long hops and half volleys being just what he would have wanted. England’s captain did have one more lucky escape, when a lifting delivery from the Sami took the top edge and looped over his head, eventually dropping to the ground just before the keeper could get to it. However, he survived and, having passed 50 just before lunch, some of us were beginning to think back to Old Trafford when he rode his luck early on to end a wretched run of scores with a huge hundred.

It didn’t happen though. Having reached 58, Vaughan attempted to sweep Malik and only managed a top edge to Mohammad Yousuf at midwicket. It was a careless shot and a waste of a chance to take advantage of his earlier luck. At 101 without loss, with the bowlers now finding little movement, batting should have been at its easiest and England should have been able to bat their hosts out of the game. Instead, they contrived to lose three wickets for 14 runs, as England swept away a good start to leave themselves struggling. First, Ian Bell contrived a dismissal that was almost identical to Vaughan’s, edging an attempted sweep to give Yousuf his second catch and Malik his second wicket. Then Trescothick, having just reached 50, also perished attempting to sweep the same bowler. In mitigation, he does generally play the shot well and, given the off-side bias of the field, it was a legitimate attacking stroke. And, he was unlucky: the resultant bottom edge bounced off his boot for Kamran Akmal to take a superbly athletic catch.

At 115 for 3, England were looking distinctly wobbly, and, in the circumstances, Collingwood and Pietersen played well. Having seen three of their colleagues fall to the sweep shot, they concentrated on playing straight. Collingwood was able to take advantage of a succession of wide half volleys from Malik, which set him on his way with a flurry of off-driven boundaries. Pietersen generally played within himself, just the once indulging himself with a huge slog sweep for six. By now, it was clear that neither the pitch nor the bowling carried any demons, and the pair were able to add 50 without any trouble at all. Facing the spinners, they were mainly content to accumulate ones and twos. Against the quicker bowlers, they were occasionally able to be more aggressive. However, having taken the total to 183, Pietersen fell in the final over before tea. Attempting to flick a leg-side delivery, he only managed to glove it and Kamran Akmal took his second excellent catch, this time diving full length to his left. Pietersen will consider himself unlucky: any meaningful contact with the ball would have brought him easy runs. Others would say that it was another poorly executed shot and, having reached 34, he should have been able to go on with it.

After tea, England knew that they needed a big partnership from somewhere if they were to build a competitive score on what by now looked a very easy wicket for batting. Unfortunately, another pair of soft dismissals put them even further in the mire. Flintoff once again fell to a catch in the deep (why does he always do this when he goes overseas?), attempting to hook Naved but only top-edging an easy catch to deep square leg. If that was bad, Jones’ dismissal beggared belief, completely missing an attempted sweep to be bowled by Kaneria. The latest self inflicted blows reduced England to 225 for 6. By now, all of England’s hopes rested on Collingwood. He had reached a thoroughly deserved 50, ironically with one of the few loose shots that he played all day. Despite the regular carnage at the other end, he showed the intelligence, determination and skill to build his highest score to date for his country. By the close, he had passed 70 and, if the new ball can be repelled, he has every chance of reaching a maiden test hundred. If he makes that particular milestone, his success will be richly deserved. Almost alone, he has kept his side in the game.

England 248-6
Paul Collingwood 71*, Michael Vaughan 58
Shoaib Malik 3-58, Naved-ul-Hasan 2-62

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