SPORT

Yousuf and Akmal make the Englishmen toil

Ted Corbett

LAHORE: The golden sheen that surrounded every day in England's rush to Ashes glory only a few weeks ago was beginning to look chipped and tarnished on Thursday after Pakistan gained a lead of 158 half way through its first innings in the final Test.

As only two days remain it is impossible to imagine a scenario in which England wins and levels the series and it even seems the dream of second place in the world will have to be conceded to India some day soon. "The rest of this match is going to be very, very difficult," said Duncan Fletcher, in his best coach-cum-public-relations guru way. He means England is probably going to lose the series 2-0. It was the first time since the Lord's Test against South Africa in 2003 that England has taken just one wicket in a day and that was the not-too-difficult one of Shoaib Akhtar who, as night watchman, hung around for an hour and a half for 38 with four fours and two sixes that Shaun Udal will want to forget.

It was not just that they came with a free swing of the bat or that they landed half way up the stand behind mid-on. Akhtar added insult to injury by laughing out loud as well. Of course, he is entitled to laugh if he can stay in for 81 balls against what has recently been called the strongest attack in cricket.

Eventually, Akhtar had one swing too many and gave Liam Plunkett his second wicket but from 247 for five to 446 for five at the close there was no wicket, no dropped catch and no semblance of a chance.

Superb timing

Mohd. Yousuf was smooth, immaculate and timing the ball with the precision of a metronome. His cover driving split the off-side field before anyone had the chance to move. His 15th Test century came coolly in less than four hours which is good going on a pitch that has died, leaving us all to wonder about the rumours that it might turn.

Yousuf now has more than 4,500 runs and it seems that one day he will stand alongside Inzamam-ul-Haq and Javed Miandad as one of the great Pakistani batsmen. Inzamam stayed in the dressing room nursing his injured finger and contemplating the luxury of a declaration in his own good time. He will delay until he feels he has time to win but England does not. That moment is not very far away.

I doubt if Yousuf wasted much time handing out advice to Kamran Akmal, a calm 23-year-old who appeared, both on the field and at a press conference later, to be totally at ease with his game. "I only concern myself with my own game," he said, "but I was glad to be in this partnership which was so important to the side."

It may have won a series, just as Kevin Pietersen's totally different innings won the Ashes for England at the Oval. You may remember those golden days.

Turning point

The turning point, for all there were no major crisis points in the sixth wicket partnership of 199 — a record against England that was set in 1972 by Intikhab Alam and Mushtaq Mohammad — came with the new ball. It was taken as soon as it was available at 267 for five and I suppose the hope was that the power men in the England attack might still give them a lead.

Instead Yousuf and Akmal increased the run rate so that eight came off Steve Harmison's first over and 14 off another. Akmal also needed only four hours for his second Test century; and he seems so assured that he must have more hundreds in his locker.

For once dusk and the finish did not coincide. Pakistan batted on for four more balls after they were first offered the light but when Harmison sent down four lifting balls they realised the game was up. I suspect England had a similar feeling earlier in the day.

This has been an unrelenting series of back-to-back Tests and in Andrew Flintoff's lack of success, Matthew Hoggard's dip in form and the sight of Shaun Udal watching the ball sail into the crowd there is a concern about the future and certainly as to how England will perform in India.