Sport is, of course, little more than a glorious distraction in life, but Pakistan's national team cricketers have always had a keen grasp of the sort of cheer their successes can bring to their compatriots. Fittingly, it was left to Zulqarnain Haider, the debutant wicketkeeper who sadly knows only too well about tragedy and turbulence, to raise the spirit of Pakistan's vast cricket-loving public yesterday.
After one-and-a-half Test matches of humiliation at the hands of a thriving England side, the touring Pakistanis saved face at Edgbaston, thanks mainly to their stumper's redoubtable rearguard effort, worth 88. Without his knock, England's players would almost certainly have been enjoying a day off today. Now they must prepare to chase a final innings target of at least 113, with one Pakistan wicket still to fall.
After being notified that he would be replacing Kamran Akmal behind the timbers for this Test, Zulqarnain revealed that he would be donating half his match fee to a cancer hospital, in memory of his late mother. Even then, he was unable to relay the good news about his elevation to his father, who had been hospitalised by a case of Hepatitis C days earlier. The 24-year-old gloveman from Lahore promptly listed his aims for his debut: to take 10 wickets, score 100 and be named man of the match.
Even if he did fall 12 short of that ton, yesterday, his innings was a personal triumph, and few would have deprived him the large slice of fortune which set him on his way. The future of the umpire decision review system may be unclear, but Zulqarnain will be forever in debt to Hawkeye technology. Having fallen to a first-ball duck on day one, he arrived at the wicket facing the prospect of becoming the first Pakistani to bag a king pair - two golden ducks - in Tests.
He eventually escaped that ignominy by little more than a hair's breadth, and after recourse to a replay. He had originally been given out lbw, but Graeme Swann was turning the ball so significantly, it was proved to be missing the leg-stump. He barely looked back. Zulqarnain's vigil was the only thing that could detract from a day which otherwise belonged to Swann, the spinner who took six wickets for England.
Typically, Swann started early. Imran Farhat, Pakistan's opener, weathered a spell of hostile short-pitched bowling from Stuart Broad, during which he was felled by a blow to the temple - yet then perished at the other end, ironically, as soon as a slow-bowler entered the attack. In fairness to Farhat, few would have survived the delivery he got from Swann. It was a vision of off-spinning perfection, drifting past the line of the left-handed Farhat's leg-stump, then spitting back beyond the edge of his bat to clip the top of the off-stump.
Shane Warne was on commentary at the time. Having bowled the delivery that deemed the ball of the last century, he would have been appreciative of Swann's entry for the latest version of that award. Swann, England's Player of the Year for 2009, had been required to do little more than hold his slip catches thus far in the series, due to the dominance of his side's fast bowlers. He is an impatient spectator and, not for the first time, got straight in on the act. His dismissal of Farhat with the second delivery he sent down marked the 20th time Swann has taken a wicket in the first over of his spell for England.
One quickly brought two. Whereas Farhat could not have done much to repel the wonder ball he received, Azhar Ali's attempt at keeping Swann out in the following over was limp. Umar Akmal also offered meek resistance, as he fell lbw not playing a shot to Swann. Swann's remarkable figures of six for 60 in 36 overs included a string of 67 successive dot balls. Despite such excellence, however, he was forced to share the limelight with Zulqarnain. @Email:email@example.com
Pakistan first innings 72 England first innings 251 Pakistan second innings (19-1 overnight): Imran Farhat b Swann 29 Salman Butt c Strauss b Anderson 0 Azhar Ali b Swann 19 Shoaib Malik c Prior b Finn 3 Umar Akmal lbw b Swann 20 Umar Amin st Prior b Swann 14 Zulqarnain Haider c Strauss b Swann 88 Mohammad Amir c Strauss b Broad 16 Saeed Ajmal c Collingwood b Swann 50 Umar Gul not out 9 Mohammad Asif not out 13 Extras: (b-16, lb-14) 30 Total: (nine wickets; 116 overs) 291 Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-53, 3-54, 4-76, 5-82, 6-101, 7-153, 8-268, 9-269 Bowling: Anderson 28-13-62-1, Broad 28-8-66-1, Finn 16-5-57-1, Swann 36-20-60-6, Collingwood 7-2-14-0, Pietersen 1-0-2-0.