If there is one thing certain about the Pakistan cricket team, it is their uncertainty. Give them a script and they will shred it to bits, rewrite their lines and create either a blockbuster or an unimaginable fiasco. The line between the two is always thin, as was evident from the narrow win over Australia earlier this summer.
Confirmation came at the Kennington Oval, London, yesterday as Pakistan oscillated between a staggering turnaround and a spectacular collapse. Chasing 148 for a win, they eventually triumphed by four wickets. The win itself would be a surprise to most who missed the first three days of the Test. After a 354-run defeat in the first Test and the nine-wicket drubbing in the second, not even their most passionate of fans would have given Pakistan any hopes of winning the next inside four days.
Pakistan did that, but very nearly did not. Coming back after the lunch break, they seemed to be heading for a comfortable win with 115 for three on the scoreboard and only 33 more needed. But in the first hour of the session, they managed just 17 runs from 14 overs and lost the wickets of Azhar Ali, Mohammed Yousuf and Kamran Akmal. England were sensing their chances and the ghosts of Sydney, where Pakistan lost to Australia after being bowled out for 139 in the second innings, seemed to be appearing on the horizon. In one particularly tense passage of play, the visitors lost two wickets and could score just two runs from seven overs.
With 15 still needed for a win, Mohammad Aamer - the one man in the team who seems calm in any situation - decided to break the shackles with Pakistan's first boundary in 10 overs. Umar Akmal clipped James Anderson off his pads in the next over to take the team closer and ease fraying tensions in the dressing room. Salman Butt, the Pakistan captain, was fuming in the dressing room after Kamran Akmal's dismissal, but he was smiling now and when Umar hit the winning runs, he leapt from his seat in delight.
The batsman himself raised his arms in triumph and immediately bowed on the turf in thanks. "It's always [nervy]," Butt said at the post-match presentation, where he dedicated the win to the victims of floods in Pakistan. "This was the same as the game against Australia. "I think the boys showed a lot of character, everybody from time to time is putting his hand up. It was a very good effort from the whole team, no one individual can be singled out."
He praised the performance of Mohammed Yousuf (56 and 33), who had been out the game for six months. "He brought class and calmness to the middle order," Butt said. "The dressing room is confident in this holy month of Ramadan. We can definitely level the series. We'd like to do so and I think the team has the potential." Andrew Strauss, the England captain, was pleased with the way his bowlers fought, but was not very happy with the way the batting collapsed losing their last seven wickets in the second innings for just 28 runs. "I was very pleased with the way we fought," he said. "The wicket was quite unresponsive and the way Jimmy [James Anderson] and Swanny [Graeme Swann] bowled was outstanding. We can't hide from the fact that our batting lost us this match. "We need to do better than this, we need to go away and learn our lessons and come back better at Lord's [where the fourth Test starts on Thursday]." * Compiled by Ahmed Rizvi
England 1st innings 233 all out Pakistan 1st innings 308 all out England, 2nd innings (overnight 221-9) Broad c Asif b Aamer 6 Finn not out 1 Extras 5lb, 2w, 5nb 12 Total (all out, 77 overs) 222 Fall of wickets: 10-222 Bowling: Aamer 19-5-52-5; Asif 16-7-45-0; Riaz 8-1-40-1; Ajmal 31-7-71-4; Farhat 3-0-9-0 Pakistan, 2nd innings Farhat lbw b Swann 33 Hameed c Swann b Anderson 0 Butt c C'wood b Swann 48 Yousuf b Anderson 33 Ali run out 5 U Akmal not out 16 K Akmal lbw b Swann 0 Aamer not out 4 Extras 4b, 2lb, 2w, 1nb 9 Total (6 wickets, 41.4 overs) 148 Fall of wickets: 1-5; 2-57; 3-103; 4-124; 5-131; 6-132 Bowling: Anderson 14-5-39-2; Broad 6-0-35-0; Swann 18.4-4-50-3; Finn 3-0-18-0 Pakistan win by 4 wickets. England lead series 2-1.