Twice in a few months, the leading Test side in the world has been found wanting. India were whitewashed in England last summer and now England have suffered a similar humiliation. Test cricket in Asia, described by England’s captain, Andrew Strauss, as “the final frontier,” has proved as unconquerable as ever.
The sunny disposition of Saeed Ajmal, the Man of the Series, and the stiff-limbed tenacity of Abdur Rehman tormented England to the end. They shared 43 wickets between them in a three-Test series and England barely played a shot in anger. Even after dismissing Pakistan for 99 in their first innings, they could not summon either the method or confidence to prevail. Only when the game was as good as lost did Matt Prior, who has looked likelier than most throughout the series, play with gusto in making an unbeaten 49.
There was plentiful spin for Pakistan’s spinners, not quick turn but leaping turn at times when the ball struck the rough. Fittingly, the match finished on an lbw referral as Monty Panesar swept at Rehman, only to find that his retro scoop bat had no magical qualities. DRS upheld the umpire’s decision and the all-time record of 43 lbw decisions in a series was equalled.
Until then, Rehman had counted Strauss as his sole success as he bowled unchanged for two sessions, 30 overs sent down with unerring accuracy. He is the sort of spin bowler who looks slightly weary from the outset, but never noticeably tires after that.
The emphasis has been upon spin, but Umar Gul reminded England that the quicker bowlers carried their own threat. His four wickets set the course of the Test unquestionably towards Pakistan. Ian Bell averaged more than 100 last summer, less than 10 in this series and when he slapped a long hop wide of point it summed up his state of mind. Reverse swing accounted for Eoin Morgan, whose dance down the pitch was nothing compared to the merry jig from the wicketkeeper Adnan Akmal, after he had caught it. If Pakistan had doubts about taking the new ball, Gul allayed them as Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann risked all-out attack and got out almost immediately.
Cook had put up statuesque resistance, 187 balls for 49. Along the way he became the second youngest person, at 27 years and 43 days, to reach 6,000 Test runs. Only Sachin Tendulkar has reached the landmark at a younger age. His most attacking shot of the morning, a loft into the leg side against Rehman, caused the bowler to taunt him with applause. He lived on scraps, combating the turning ball with thoughtful defence and numerous works to the leg side and that proved his undoing as a leading edge was brilliantly held by Younis Khan, diving to his left at first slip.
England, 36 runs banked the previous evening, needed a further 288 at start of play. Strauss fell in the sixth over of the morning, lbw on the back foot once more. He reviewed it, although he would have been better advised to head smartly for the dressing room. When it comes to captain’s reviews Strauss cannot match Misbah-ul-Haq. Misbah was lbw on five occasions in this series and took a review every time. It must be a captain’s prerogative.
Without lapses in the field, Pakistan might have won sooner. They had dropped Cook the previous evening, a relatively simple chance to Taufeeq Umar at third slip and Gul’s drop in the shadows of the stand at deep square gave him another reprieve as Pakistan lost the efficiency that has characterised their cricket throughout this series. Rehman made his frustration clear when he caught Jonathan Trott at deep square and flung the ball into the turf with feeling at the errors that had gone before.
Kevin Pietersen was bent upon playing enterprisingly. The first ball of the afternoon provided a reminder of his vulnerability when a bat-pad against Rehman flew high past short leg, but he had the fleeting satisfaction of striking him straight for six before Ajmal, from around the wicket, spun one through the gate and beamed at further bounty.
Adnan Akmal’s fumble behind the stumps to reprieve Strauss, although not costly as the England captain was out in the next over, was the worst miss of all. Adnan has had a good series behind the stumps and has the opportunity to be Pakistan’s first-choice keeper for many years to come but his excitable chatter was at times counterproductive. Strauss’ edge flew to him at comfortable height but he put it down. For a few minutes he was quiet and you could hear your ears ringing.
Adnan’s cacophony of cries often rent the air for inexplicable reasons. As do parrots, Adnan vocalises for many reasons. He may be excitedly greeting the day or summoning his family at sunset. He may be screeching when he is excited or when he is merely trying it on. He may screech when he thinks things have got too quiet or when he thinks it is his duty to scream. He just likes screeching. At one point he burst out coughing as if in sore need of a lozenge and Trott looked at him in deadpan fashion.
Adnan is also incorrigibly optimistic about reviewing umpiring decisions. “Do it, do it, yes, yes, all good,” you could sense him saying from first moment to last. Misbah learned not to take his evidence into consideration and looked askance at him. He will not be looking askance tonight – every Pakistan player will share Adnan’s excitement.