A VIEW FROM MIDWICKET: Inzi and Akhtar bury the hatchet!
By MU Haq
The third Ashes Test at Old Trafford, which will go down in the history of Test cricket as one of the greatest matches, ended in a nail-biting draw. England had Australia on the ropes (in boxing jargon) but lacked the ability to deliver the knock out punch! Australia set the task of scoring a record 423 runs for victory batted out the last day thanks to a courageous 156 in over seven hours of excellent batsmanship by captain Ricky Ponting, who was helped by Michael Clarke and Shane Warne and most of all by the last pair of Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath who put up sterling resistance to survive the final four overs, which the England bowlers did not bowl particularly well…this was disappointing after having dominated the proceedings earlier. The Australian tactics to have McGrath take guard against the fast bowlers (with the wicketkeeper standing back) well outside the crease, paid dividends. It forestalled the danger of being yorked and anything pitched short would pass safely over the stumps. The last over from Steve Harmison had him bowling outside the off and leg stumps and the final delivery to Lee was a full toss outside leg stump! The match will long be remembered as Australia’s great escape and with cricket as the winner.
The teams next meet at Trent Bridge for the fourth Test on August 25. One can not envisage any changes in the England team, though coach Duncan Fletcher will probably spend some considerable time gingering up his bowlers and working hard to teach the rudiments of taking catches to the butter-fingered Kevin Pietersen, who failed to take his first catch in Test cricket, having already dropped five! The South Africa-born Pietersen is otherwise the most enthusiastic member of the England team as is evident from his scampering about the field, doing high-fives and embracing bowlers at the fall of wickets and, in one instance, almost dislocating Andrew Flintoff’s nose as he rushed to celebrate the bowler’s success! Many years ago, in the mid-1970s, when the South Africans born then England captain Tony Grieg defected to join Kerry Packer as his recruiting agent, the former Editor of Wisden and cricket columnist of The Times, in castigating the player said “ … after all, he is not an Englishman!” Without implying any discourtesy to Pietersen, it could be said that he tries twice as hard since he, with his multi-coloured hair, is really not an Englishman.
The Australians on the other hand have their problems. Barring Ponting the upper order has not fired. The prolific Mathew Hayden and the dangerous Adam Gilchrist have been short of runs and Simon Katich seems out of sorts and will probably make way for Brad Hodge, who has considerable experience of English conditions. Stuart Clarke’s back problems are a source of concern and even though he batted with courage at Old Trafford, there is an element of risk in playing him lest he should break down again at Trent Bridge. Jason Gillespie is also likely to make way and perhaps the uncapped Shaun Tait will be given an opportunity since Michael Kasprowicz did not fare well when McGrath was laid up at Edgbaston.
In the so-far closely contested Ashes series neither side has played particularly good cricket, though perhaps England have performed better. After the dramatic draw at Old Trafford as a result of Australia’s tremendous rear-guard action and England’s inability to deliver the killer punch, the feeling is that a confident Australia will prevail in the fourth and fifth Tests and retain the Ashes.
It is disappointing to note that the uplift plans for National Stadium Karachi (NSK) have been put on the back burner and that Pakistan’s oldest stadium will retain its spectator-unfriendly status. Also canned is the underground 600 car parking facility, which would have been something to behold, but difficult to justify since it would be put to effective use perhaps once or, at the most, twice annually. The Cricket Club of Pakistan (CCP) is a grand idea and hopefully it will kick off. One would be interested to learn how the institution will function and whether membership will be open to ladies, as in the case of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and the Cricket Club of India (CCI)?
And finally, Inzamamul Haq and Shoaib Akhtar have decided to bury the hatchet through the mediation of Rashid Latif. This is a good news for Pakistan cricket and one hopes that a fit and committed Akhtar will be ready, willing and able to bowl flat out in both innings of a Test match for a change and justify his placement in the highest category of the central contract. This is fortunate for him since he has not exactly set the international cricket scene on fire for a long while. Someone up there must care for him or is it just the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) hierarchy that lives in hope that one day the maverick will reform and come good!