Paul Edwards witnesses a Pakistan fight back on the third day at Edgbston
This summer I have been privileged to see two very fine games of Twenty20 cricket: Lancashire v Yorkshire at Old Trafford and Essex v Lancashire at Chelmsford. To recollect the former may still prompt a warm smile of remembrance from those who live west of the Pennines; to mention the latter may intrude on private grief. Finals' Day is on Saturday and it could have been us.
And yet, when I watch sport as fine and fluctuating as that I saw at Edgbaston this afternoon and evening, I know why I will always prefer four- and five-day cricket to the various over-limit formats of the game. Those with a fondness for the one-day stuff may be shakng their heads at this point. But the variety of skills on display, the range of conditions in which the game is played and the sheer length of the contest all help to show why they still call it first-class cricket.
Test cricket can be riveting when there seems to be nothing happening. For example, while neither James Anderson nor Graeme Swann will thank me for the observation, I reckon the most absorbing period of this Edgbaston Test was when the entire match nearly got stuck. Apostles of attractive cricket will throw up their hands in horror at this observation while I suspect that Twenty20 zealots won't understand it all. Nevertheless, it's always enjoyable when the pundits are confounded and there could have been few better examples of this than the barnacle-like resistance mounted by Zulqarnain Haider and Mohammed Aamer at Birmingham on Sunday afternoon.
Pakistan were going to lose, of course. That much had been clear since Graeme Swann's magnificent pre-lunch spell had helped reduce the tourists to 94 for five at lunch. They were going to lose heavily too, probably by an innings. When Swann had Umar Amin stumped by Matt Prior just after the interval, Salman Butt's men were 101 for six and the people who set up the platform for the end of match presentation were probably getting fidgety.
Zulqarnain and Aamer, however, had other ideas and very few of them were aggressive. They were content to block the bowling, take what runs were available and grit it out. This produced some pretty bizarre bowling figures. For example, Swann's post-lunch analysis read 16-13-11-1 and his entire spell either side of the break was 24-17-23-4. Haider could have become only the second player in Test history to collect a king pair on debut but Swann's lbw decision was reversed on appeal, leaving F T Badcock as the only cricketer to suffer that fate. Three hours later, Haider clipped Steven Finn's leg stump half volley to the boundary and reached his fifty. He had gone from Badcock to Bradman in one afternoon.
What happened in this period was that the balance of the match - and more importantly, the series - shifted. Pakistan's batting in the first innings had been as resilient as a tower of meringues. Suddenly, even if it was only by joining the dots of Swann's overs together, they located their powers of resistance. In doing so, they may just have set up the rest of the series. Aamer supported Haider in grand style until Stuart Broad had him caught behind, fencing at the second new ball (In the series to date Aamer has batted 312 minutes and faced 296 balls for his 57 runs; he has also proved himself a fine left-arm seamer. He is some cricketer).
Still Pakistan were nothing like finished. Fresh from taking five wickets in the first innings, Saeed Ajmal made a 79-ball 50 and Haider followed him into the land of strokefulness. But you know all this and some of you may have watched it on TV. Pakistan lead by 112 going into the fourth - and surely the last - day of the game. England will win, won't they ? Yes, I know. Things are different now.
One final point: those among you who read my stuff will know that I try to write about life beyond the boundary. Graham Hardcastle does the match reports for the county games and the action in the Tests is pored over by Lord Gower and his vassals. Today, though, is different. Today is a day when the cricket must come first.
Photo (c) PA Images