This was more like it. After two matches when Test match batting had appeared to be an alien concept totally beyond the comprehension of Pakistan's players, the penny finally started to drop at The Oval yesterday. It was hardly a return to the days of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saeed Anwar, Javed Miandad and run-mountains. But a tally of 308, and thus a 75-run first innings lead over England, was a minor triumph for a side who have made a habit of meek surrender so far this summer.
Midway through their fifth Test in the UK this summer, this was the first time Pakistan had passed 300 in an innings. There was one of obvious reason for the sudden improvement: the return of Mohammed Yousuf. The storied former captain's half-century was some way short of his best against England, and he was never anywhere near his most fluent. Yet it was still a fine achievement for someone who has been prevented from batting for months by a concoction of suspension, retirement, non-selection and inclement weather.
Once he had shown the way, the talented underachievers who followed seemed to happy to follow. In particular, Azhar Ali cast aside his previous travails by notching up a doughty 92 not out, which was the top score of Pakistan's effort. It was the first time in this series England's bowlers had seriously been tested, and they responded admirably. In particular, Graeme Swann showed the zest for battle that has quickly become his trademark over the year-and-a-half he has now spent in Test cricket.
His duel with the 35-year-old Yousuf was a mini-classic. It might have lacked the carnal edge of Allan Donald versus Mike Atherton, but this was a high quality confrontation nonetheless. Yousuf appeared to be winning the battle as he eased to 56, but Swann finally won out when the former Pakistan captain shoveled a return catch straight back into his grasp. It was quite a scalp for Swann to count as his 100th in Test matches.
"It's the first time I've played against him [Yousuf]," Swann told Sky Sports in a television interview at the end of the day's play. "It was nice to watch him bat - he's a class player - so I'm delighted to get him as my 100th victim. "I looked down the team and thought he's the one I'd have wanted out of their line-up. "He looked fairly comfortable over the wicket so you've got to do try different things to make things happen."
There was double joy for Swann. Almost simultaneously as he was reaching his personal milestone, the ICC were issuing a press release apologising for missing the England off-spinner off their long-list of nominations for the Cricketer of the Year award. There had been some serious harrumphing in England when the list of 14 names announced a day earlier had lacked anybody from arguably the form side in world cricket at present.
"It was a genuine oversight on the part of the committee as Graeme fully deserved to be nominated in this category," Clive Lloyd, who headed the selection panel, said. "Graeme, during the voting period, produced some very strong performances which puts him alongside the other top performers. On behalf of the selection panel, I apologise for this oversight." For his part, Swann said he had not even realised he had made the shortlist. "I 100 per cent didn't realise. I thought 'It's quite nice I'm in there' but everyone in the changing room was saying I wasn't in originally," he said. Swann ended with four for 68 when Mohammed Asif was last out, leaving Azhar eight short of his maiden century. Despite his efforts, England were in trouble again by the close, as Andrew Strauss, the captain, fell to Mohammed Aamer in the first innings of the reply to leave the home side six for one, still 69 runs behind. firstname.lastname@example.org
England 1st innings 233 all out Pakistan, 1st innings (overnight score 48-1) Hameed c Prior b Finn 36 Riaz lbw b Swann 27 Butt c Prior b Swann 17 Yousuf c&b Swann 56 Ali not out 92 U Akmal run out 38 K Akmal c Morgan b Broad 10 Aamer c Prior b Broad 6 Ajmal b Anderson 0 Asif c Anderson b Swann 8 Extras 4lb, 1w, 2nb 7 Total (all out, 100.2 overs) 308 Fall of wickets: 2-48; 3-76; 4-110; 5-179; 6-236; 7-251; 8-269; 9-270; 10-308 Bowling: Anderson 24-6-79-2; Broad 25-4-72-2; Finn 20-4-74-1; Swann 27.2-9-68-4; Collingwood 4-0-11-0 England, 2nd innings Strauss c Hameed b Amir 4 Cook not out 0 Anderson not out 2 Extras 0 Total (1 wicket, 3.0 overs) 6 Fall of wickets: 1-4; Bowling: Amir 2-1-5-1; Asif 1-0-1-0