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Flintoff keeps England in the hunt

Ted Corbett

  • Pakistan 199 ahead with four wickets in hand
  • I didn't plan that ball to Afridi, says Flintoff

    FAISALABAD: For a few overs towards the end on Wednesday, with Andrew Flintoff driving in, intently as he was last summer against the Australians, there was just a chance that England might win the second Test against Pakistan and level the series.

    At the close Pakistan had a lead of 199 with four wickets in hand. The Flintstone man, waking up like a slumbering giant, shaking the sleep out of his eyes and knocking down stumps twice in an over.

    For 58 overs Pakistan had been building a sound second innings, thinking that at some stage Shahid Afridi would come to the wicket and blast them a total which would enable them to declare and leave England about 60 difficult overs with a tempting target which would mean they had to decide: Do we hold what we have and try to win the final Test and draw the series? Or can we win from behind as we did in the Ashes series?

    Sudden reversal

    Instead Flintoff produced a 59th over of such ferocity that it was Pakistan who faced defeat. His second ball caught Mohammad Yousuf on the glove and dropped on to his off stump leaving Pakistan four for 164.

    We caught our breath as Shahid Afridi came down the long dark stairway to the sort of cheers that once greeted the Beatles. I will never be totally convinced that Afridi was ready but he looked up as Flintoff ran in and a tenth of a second later the ball smashed his off stump out of the ground.

    Now half the Pakistan side was out and it was just 180 ahead, with one of the weakest tails imaginable.

    Flintoff said: "I didn't plan that ball to Afridi. I just wanted to get it up on the line of off stump. We had been working hard all day but we knew that if we got two quick wickets we would be back in the match. We all know what Afridi can do and so it was an important wicket."

    Now Flintoff knew this must be his big moment. Kevin Pietersen and Michael Vaughan tried to encourage him but his grim face and his brisk walk to his mark meant he was zeroed in on another victim.

    The hat-trick ball swerved past the off stump, close enough to steal a kiss, almost near enough to shake the bail free by its vibration. Vaughan called up Steve Harmison to produce just as much fear at the other end and he accounted for Kamran Akmal in the semi-darkness so that when the light closed in at the end of his over Pakistan was 183 for six, with only the rabbits to come.

    Pakistan's tactics

    England had been bowled out only 16 behind after Shaun Udal and Steve Harmison had hit effectively but Afridi finished with four wickets. Pakistan's tactics soon became clear. Take no risks on a pitch that never asked a question, push the lead to near 200 at the close and then let Afridi out of his cage. It almost worked. The openers Salmon Butt and Shoaib Malik put on 54 in 19 overs when Flintoff had Malik caught at extra cover.

    Younis Khan and Butt were out in four overs before tea. Mohammad Yousuf and Inzamam went quietly about setting up a stage on which Afridi could strut his stuff but after tea Flintoff asked for two more overs until he finished with 7-2-15-2. Now there is all to play for and viewing, watching or listening it will make a fascinating moment. The day was made complicated when at 108 in the 42nd over umpire Darrell Hair signalled dead ball as Butt finished a run and made him return to the batting end.

    He was out next ball to Shaun Udal, probably caught off balance by Hair's sudden intervention.

    Hair was acting under a law that has lain on the statute books for five years without anyone noticing. It seems that running on the pitch has now become a major crime to be eliminated at any cost. Pakistani voices claimed Butt never ran on the pitch; even the English fielders seemed surprised by Hair's decision.

    If any Pakistan batsman offends again England will have five penalty runs added to their first innings total. Don't ask me why it has to be the first innings but I am sure the MCC will let you know if you ask politely.

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