Pakistan in with a shout

Pakistan started the fourth day on 125-2 with Salman Butt on 53 and night-watchman Mohammad Sami still to get off the mark. Allowing for the fact that England had to bat last on a dry track showing a little sign of wear, the game was nicely poised with Pakistan two down and just 19 in arrears. For the home side, the game had to be saved before it could be won, whereas the visitors had emerged victorious in many games from such a position over the previous two years.

England for a fleeting moment thought that they had broken through with the very first delivery of the day. Flintoff dug one in to Salman Butt and the opener fended the ball away from his face, straight to the waiting slip cordon. To the dismay of the fielding side, the outstretched arm of Billy Bowden indicated that the bowler had overstepped.

England did not have long to wait for their first wicket and it was Sami who departed for 3, edging Flintoff through to wicketkeeper Geraint Jones with the total on 131. This brought the mercurial home-town boy and captain Inzamam-ul-Haq to the middle to join Salman Butt. The pair had been the principal contributors in the first innings, and if Pakistan were to win, they would in all likelihood have to be once again in the second.

Butt then played a lovely flick through the packed off side off Harmison as England strove to make early inroads. In Flintoff’s next over, Inzamam padded up to one outside off stump, but despite the bowler’s impassioned plea, the umpire was unmoved. Inzamam then played a quite gorgeous on drive to the midwicket boundary and in the process took his side into credit.

Harmison gave way to Hoggard but he was equally ineffective, conceding boundaries on either side of the wicket as he overpitched to Butt. When the first drinks session was taken, Pakistan had progressed to 162-3, a lead of 18.

The resumption signalled a more aggressive approach by the home side as Inzamam threaded an overpitched ball from Flintoff through the covers, but the bearded skipper was fortunate when he gloved a short one over the wicketkeeper for four more. The spin of Ashley Giles was introduced after an hour’s play and Inzamam greeted his appearance with a lofted drive to the midwicket fence before both batsmen nudged singles to take the partnership beyond 50

Inzamam bludgeoned Giles through the covers for four, then a deft tickle took the total to 200-3, a figure that represented a lead of 56 over England. Inzamam, never the happiest of runners between the wickets, was involved in another near miss as Salman Butt pushed to mid off and charged down the wicket, but his partner was unmoved, sending him back in the nick of time.

Shaun Udal was thrown into the attack, but he fared no better as Inzamam thrashed a ball of full length through midwicket. A few moments before lunch, Salman Butt clubbed another boundary through midwicket to move within a couple of his hundred before Inzamam cracked a full toss to midwicket to reach his fifty just before the interval, which Pakistan would have enjoyed the more on 232-3.

A free gift outside leg stump from Giles allowed Butt to move to his hundred with no trouble whatsoever, but controversy reigned a while later when it looked as though the centurion had failed to win the race against Paul Collingwood’s return and had been run out, but after numerous replays the third umpire concluded that it was too close to call in favour of the fielding side.

England continued with spin at both ends, looking to dry up the runs and frustrate the batsmen before the new ball became due. Inzamam countered by rocking forward and back, quick to pounce on the resultant short ball by Udal, sending it scudding over the turf to the cover boundary.

Butt then threw the kitchen sink at a ball from Giles, profiting to the tune of a boundary before the game took its customary dramatic turn of events, as happens so often when the shiny new cherry became available. With 80 overs gone, a protracted discussion between England’s seam bowlers concluded that the new ball ought to be taken immediately, and the decision paid off straight away.

Hoggard produced an inswinger to Butt who turned a single to square leg, then Inzamam-ul-Haq played for swing that just wasn’t there and was trapped padding up in front of middle stump. A captain’s innings of 72 out of a partnership of 135 had put his side right back in the game on 266-4, a lead of 122.

Mohammad Yousuf was next up and greeted Hoggard’s opening outswinger with a degree of disdain, stroking it through the covers for a sumptuous four. The Yorkshireman then beat him all ends up with successive deliveries that had the slips cast expectant looks at one another. Andrew Flintoff shared the new ball and he too felt the power of Yousuf’s blade as twice in quick time the ball thudded into the fence at midwicket.

Yousuf’s helter-skelter approach continued as he profited from a streaky four through the slips, but then he thrashed one straight into the hands of Bell in the gully and was gone for 16, the young man making no mistake with the sharp chance.

Salman Butt moved on with boundaries to third man and extra cover, but England’s fightback continued when Hasan Raja, who had made just a single, flicked at a ball from Flintoff outside off stump, only to see Marcus Trescothick take a tumbling catch at slip to reduce Pakistan to 291-6.

Another glorious cover drive by Salman Butt took his fine innings on to 122, but it was to be his last contribution. Hoggard managed to get one to bounce a little and leave him off the seam and the edge gave Geraint Jones an easy catch. Pakistan’s total of 295-7 represented a slump in which they had conceded the initiative, losing four wickets for 30 runs in a little over half an hour.

Shoaib Akhtar opened his account with a neat push to the third man boundary, then Kamran Akmal lofted a short one from Flintoff over the top of cover for four to take the Pakistanis beyond 300. Flintoff gave way to Steve Harmison who opened with a steady maiden to Shoaib. When the umpires indicated that tea was due, Pakistan had reached 308-7.

Matthew Hoggard found the edge of Kamran Akmal’s bat immediately after the resumption, but the ball ran along the ground to slip. Twice more in the over the batsman was beaten, but in between he played a super shot to the fence at cover to get the innings rolling again.

The first few overs after tea saw few aggressive strokes and fewer risks as both batsmen looked to occupy time at the crease, but the drought was broken when Akmal slapped a short ball from Flintoff through the covers for four. At the other end, Shoaib Akhtar was playing with a rare maturity, greeting everything with a broad defensive bat.

Harmison tried repeatedly to force Akmal on to the back foot with short deliveries, but when the ball was pitched up the keeper elegantly stroked the ball through extra cover for four. The sheen had by now long gone off the new ball as Pakistan seemed more and more comfortable, prompting Trescothick to turn to Giles.

Shoaib Akhtar immediately slogged the left arm spinner high and long over midwicket for a maximum, but Giles had the last laugh as Shoaib (11) played defensively at a straight one later in the same over. Ian Bell, who has made quite a name for himself for taking brilliant reflex catches, showed remarkable reactions once again to dive and scoop the ball just clear of the ground, leaving Pakistan on 331-8.

New batsman Shabbir Ahmed, only number 10 because Danish Kaneria is currently rated even lower as a batsman, faced just one ball, edging a regulation Harmison delivery through to Geraint Jones who again showed a safe pair of gloves as Pakistan looked as though they might be setting a target of less than 200.

Akmal cleverly worked the ball for successive twos off Giles, then cracked his fifth ball square to the fence. A swing and a miss left Kaneria to face the next over from Harmison, which he did with something to spare, nudging a single to midwicket. Harmison then produced a high bouncer to Akmal, on 33, who attempted to swat the ball with the toe of the bat pointing skywards. The ball looped skywards and Kevin Pietersen took his first catch in test cricket, a collector’s item to ease the memories of his ordeals against Australia.

Pakistan’s total of 341 meant that England required a total of 198 to win with a little over a day in which to make the runs, a task that on the face of it sounded plain sailing, although Pakistan had won games from far worse positions in the past. England faced a tricky period of around three quarters of an hour before the evening gloom set in, a short session that could well go a long way to deciding the outcome.

Shoaib Akhtar opened the bowling for Pakistan but Trescothick had little difficulty in opening his account with three runs eased into the leg side. Shabbir Ahmed, Pakistan’s most effective bowler first time around, was preferred to Mohammad Sami and immediately went around the wicket to Trescothick, but reverted to a conventional approach to Andrew Strauss who also scored his first run square on the leg side.

England last their first wicket with the total on 7, and it was that of their captain, bowled by Shabbir. A seemingly innocuous delivery outside off stump had Trescothick, who had made just 5, prodding nervously at the ball. Perhaps it stayed low, perhaps not, but either way the ball skewed off the inside edge of his angled bat, straight on to the stumps.

Ian Bell registered his first run of the second innings down to fine leg, but Strauss was fortunate to survive when he edged Shabbir just short of slip. Bell went for the pull when Shoaib produced a fiery bouncer, and the Warwickshire batsman was fortunate indeed as he profited to the tune of a top-edged six long leg.

A horrible mix-up saw Strauss yards short of his ground, yet unfortunately for the home side, Shabbir missed with his shy at the stumps from short cover. By and large, though, England looked very solid against the seamers, so it was a logical move when Inzamam brought Danish Kaneria an with the ball only 8 overs old. There was a little turn but no more alarms, and England ended the day on 24-1, still 174 short of victory with three sessions to go.

Pakistan 274 all out
Salman Butt 74, Inzamam-ul-Haq 53
Flintoff 4-68, Harmison 3-37
and 341 all out
Salman Butt 122, Inzamam-ul-Haq 72

England 418 all out
Trescothick 193, Bell 71
Shabbir Ahmed 4-54, Shoaib Akhtar 3-99
and 24-1
Bell 12*, Strauss 7*

England require 174 more for victory with 9 wickets in hand

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