If the cap fits, wear it. And if not, then stretch it and wiggle it around for a bit until it does. No matter how ill-fitting the hat Wahab Riaz was presented with at his side's pre-Test capping-ceremony yesterday morning, it immediately became a prized possession for the debutant bowler.
By the time the start of the match came around 40 minutes later, he had just about moulded it to the shape of his head. And the smile of satisfaction was present throughout. The Oval is not always kind to first-time internationals. It has been the stage for the beginning, middle and end of the careers of a variety of "One-Cap Wonders" down the years, as players were traditionally handed the final Test of the English summer to prove their credentials.
But Riaz, 25, from Lahore, can plan for an extended run in the Test game on the basis of his performance for Pakistan yesterday. On a pitch usually regarded as a batsman's paradise, the left-arm seam bowler picked up a five-wicket haul at the first time of asking. It was more than the unheralded bowler could have hoped for. The last time he played against a team bearing the three lions of England, he suffered badly.
Playing for Pakistan "A" against the England Lions at Dubai Sports City in February, he bowled four overs for 29, then was not invited to bowl again by his captain. With a modest CV, his elevation to the senior side had not been met with a groundswell of agreement back at home. Fitting in seamlessly to this Pakistan side is not the easiest task at the best of times, and in many ways, Riaz, as a pace bowler, had to work harder than anyone to be noticed.
While their fielding and batting had been abominable so far on their tour of the United Kingdom, Pakistan's pace attack has continued to purr like a well-oiled Ferrari engine. When Umar Gul fell foul of an injured hamstring, the untested Riaz was handed his chance.Immediately he had to get up to speed with a new-ball pairing, made up of Mohammed Asif and Mohammad Aamer, which is considered by many to be the best in the world.
It would be a job for him to catch the eye in the same way as Zulqarnain Haider managed last time out. When the wicketkeeper, who has since been invalided back out of the side by a finger injury, made his debut at Edgbaston, he did not need to do a great deal to better what had gone before him. Kamran Akmal, the previous - and now restored - incumbent was so awful in the first two Tests, that Zulqarnain was still able to make a golden duck, drop a simple catch, then notch a second-innings half-century, and he was deemed a great success.
Riaz's achievement spoke for itself, however, as he picked up the wickets of Andrew Strauss, the England captain, and Kevin Pietersen, their batting talisman, in his first morning as a Test cricketer. He also got rid of Jonathan Trott before the interval, and when he had Eoin Morgan caught behind soon after lunch England were reeling at 74 for six and were in real danger of failing to make three figures.
But led by Matt Prior, England staged a fightback during the afternoon session to frustrate Riaz and his teammates. Prior put on 119 for the eighth wicket with Stuart Broad (48) to move England to a competitive total. But Riaz was not to be denied and he picked up his fifth wicket when he had Broad trapped leg before. Prior was denied a chance at a second century in the series as he ran out of partners as England finished on 233. The wicketkeeper finishing unbeaten on 84.
Riaz's work for the day was not done though. Having watched openers Yasir Hameed (36 not out) and Imran Farhat (11) get their reply off to a flying start, he came in as nightwatchman to see out the last three balls of the day after Farhat had played on to a James Anderson delivery. Riaz will have a tall order to replicate the success of his first day in Test cricket when he resumes his innings today, but regardless his fine display has galvanised his side into a competitive position. email@example.com
England, 1st innings Strauss c K Akmal b Riaz 15 Cook c K Akmal b Asif 6 Trott c Hameed b Riaz 12 Pietersen c K Akmal b Riaz 6 Collingwood b Aamer 5 Morgan c K Akmal b Riaz 17 Prior not out 84 Swann c U Akmal b Asif 8 Broad lbw b Riaz 48 Anderson lbw b Asif 0 Finn lbw b Ajmal 0 Extras 10b, 11lb, 6w, 5nb 32 Total (all out, 62.3 overs) 233 Fall of wickets: 1-9; 2-35; 3-40; 4-47; 5-67; 6-74; 7-94; 8-213; 9-214; 10-233 Bowling: Aamer 15-4-49-1; Asif 20-5-68-3; Riaz 18-6-63-5; Ajmal 9.3-1-32-1 Pakistan, 1st innings Farhat b Anderson 11 Hameed not out 36 Riaz not out 0 Extras 1nb 1 Total (1 wicket, 18 overs) 48 Fall of wickets: 1-48 Bowling: Anderson 7-2-19-1; Broad 6-2-28-0; Finn 3-3-0-0; Swann 2-1-1-0