Pakistan storm back at Multan

England don’t do easy cruises home. There’s always intrigue, there’s always uncertainty and there’s always the ebb and flow of tension as the winning post nears. In their recent winning run, they had chased 282, 284, 231, 145 and 129. They were undoubtedly capable, but by even token the hosts’ pace attack had the potential to exploit the threat of the still-new ball that had consistently made its mark on this Test.

Day 4 Close England 24-1 (IR Bell 12*, AJ Strauss 7*) need 174 more runs to win

The first blow went to the tourists, easing off the mark for the morning as Shoaib Akhtar overstepped for the tenth time in the match before Andrew Strauss, watchful to cover his stumps to Shabbir Ahmed with Marcus Trescothick’s dismissal the previous evening in mind, eased the bowler to the extra cover boundary as the threatened early movement failed to materialise. Ian Bell guided Shoaib Akhtar to the third man ropes through the vacant fourth slip area twice in two balls – once controlled, once less so – before Inzamam moved to plug the hole, and a further Strauss boundary eased past point.

Within half an hour’s play, and after three ineffective, up-and-down overs from Shoaib and Pakistani body language circumspect and ponderous, Danish Kaneria – perhaps Inzamam’s fifth-day trump card – was delivering his first over. Nine runs later – four of them byes as Kamran Akmal fluffed a leg-side take – Bell and Strauss had eased towards a fifty partnership and taken England past quarter-distance towards their target.

Kaneria’s two-over spell ended with the introduction of Mohammad Sami – and as Bell chopped a French cut to square leg and Strauss played and missed, the first alarm bells began to sound for the tourists, sounds that soon became deafening. Kaneria changed ends and prised out the wickets of Bell and Strauss, rhe right hander snicking a cut shot through to Akmal before Strauss pushed forward to a top-spinner and guided an outside edge to Hasan Raza at slip. Paul Collingwood then decided that the best way to play a straight ball from Sami was the hoik through midwicket, with fatal consequences once the ball slammed into his pads. England don’t do easy cruises home.

As if the situation wasn’t stomach-clenching enough, Kevin Pietersen felt that the moment was right to launch Danish Kaneria into the midwicket stands and push himself towards his first double-figure score of the tour before sweeping the leg-spinner into Salman Butt’s shoulder blades at short leg. Flintoff joined his partner passing ten as he flicked a leg stump freebie to the fine leg ropes before lobbing a short ball up to the vacant short leg region and then granting catching practice to Younis Khan at deep midwicket to make it five down with only 93 runs on the board. It felt like KP or bust.

Twenty minutes later, after Pietersen slashed a wild, loose drive behind the stumps to Akmal, it felt irredeemably like bust with ninety-six runs required and just four tail-end wickets to make them with. Five top order men had fallen for thirty-seven runs and the game was on its head, Geraint Jones and Ashley Giles seemingly the last bulwark between England and defeat. Giles brought England’s target below 90 with an assured cut shot through to the extra cover boundary before escaping a vociferous bat-pad appeal off Kaneria, with replays proving inconclusive. Could Pakistan, now unquestionably in the box seat, complete their cruise home – or were there further twists and complications to come?

The next twists were the exclusive preserve of Ashley Giles’ middle and leg stumps as they lay battered and flattened on the turf courtesy of a brutal 94.7mph Shoaib Akhtar yorker. Eighty runs and three wickets, the odds were continually mounting against England. For Shaun Udal, on debut, it was the – albeit delayed – Boys’ Own moment. Test match debut and batting for the win as he battled with Geraint Jones towards the lunch interval, the players leaving the field at 138-7. Twenty-one added for the eighth wicket, sixty more to win. The dream, beaten and bruised, was nevertheless still alive.

Lunch England 138-7 (GO Jones 14*, SD Udal 12*) need 60 more runs to win

Any thoughts of symmetry to the Second Ashes Test at Edgbaston became clearer as Mohammad Sami’s first ball of the afternoon session speared down the leg side – Kamran Akmal doing well to restrict the English haul to two byes rather than four, before smart singles from both batsmen combined to bring the target down to its next landmark, fifty to win.

Fifty then became forty, mixing dabs and deflections with prods and pushes. An extra cover drive lifted straight from the coaching manual brought the target down the thirty-six, and two runs later Inzamam returned the biggest of his big guns as Shoaib Akhtar thundered in. Geraint Jones squeezed a length ball through the gully – only half-stopped by Salman Butt’s bandaged right hand – for two more, before the balance of the game was transformed again, Shoaib breaking through the wicketkeeper’s defences with a ball that stayed a little low and cannoned into the stumps via the inside edge and his pads.

Two balls later, it was Pakistan with victory in touching distance as Kaneria, bowling around the wicket to Udal, fizzed his googly through the gate and into middle stump. Kaneria and Akhtar. Hoggard and Harmison. Thirty-two runs and one wicket. A paddle sweep. Thirty-one. A flashing Harmison cover drive and a French cut. Twenty-three. A slower ball. An outside edge. Younis Khan at slip. The bitter aftertaste of mortality. 1-0 Pakistan.

We thought that we’d seen all the gut-wrenching tension that Test cricket could deliver during the Ashes summer – we should have known better. The Bank AlFalah series – and more critically, the world of Test cricket is alive and well. With Faisalabad – on Sunday – and Lahore to come, England need two wins from two to take the series – but as a team with the recent track record and fighting qualities of England, they are never likely to lie down. Paul Collingwood’s place is under great threat following a double failure – with both the possible return of Michael Vaughan and the arrival of Alistair Cook, whilst Pakistan hold questions over both Mohammad Yousuf’s fitness and Hasan Raza’s form – with Asim Kamal and Shahid Afridi possible replacements.

Pakistan 274
Salman Butt 74, Inzamam-ul-Haq 53
Andrew Flintoff 4-68, Steve Harmison 3-37

England 418
Marcus Trescothick 193, Ian Bell 71
Shabbir Ahmed 4-54, Shoaib Akhtar 3-99

Pakistan 341
Salman Butt 122, Inzamam-ul-Haq 72
Andrew Flintoff 4-88, Steve Harmison 3-52

England 175
Geraint Jones 33, Ian Bell 31
Danish Kaneria 4-62, Shoaib Akhtar 3-49

Pakistan won by 22 runs

Cricket Web Player of the Match
Salman Butt (Pakistan) – 74 and 122

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