The first favour The Oval does for Pakistani cricketers is that it brings back happy memories from the past. The flashback of Fazal Mahmood taking six wickets in each innings to secure a stunning 24-run triumph on the tour of 1954 serves like a tonic.
But Pakistan would need much more than that to conquer a rampaging England in the fourth Test starting here from today. They have been short on almost every ingredient required to win a Test against a strong opposition and in alien conditions. They have lacked the firepower in their bowling, consistency in their batting and their catching abilities have been worse than ever. The tourists are 0-2 down after succumbing tamely at Old Trafford and Headingley and the Englishmen are gunning for a 3-0 rout.
However, still keeping his trademark calm is Pakistan skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq. “The series has been lost but this Test is a different story. Every Test is important and this one is more so because a win here would give us confidence ahead of the one-day series,” he said. How he plans to achieve a win that has so far been elusive in this series?
Inzamam is considering bringing in Mohammad Asif and hopes that a different opening combination would finally deliver at The Oval where he believes the wicket would be batsmen friendly. And he is hoping that Danish Kaneria, touted as Pakistan’s trump card in the lead up to this series, would finally come out with a match-winning performance.
The wicket does look good, though the weather seems threatening as it rained sporadically in London on Wednesday and the forecast is of more showers in the coming days. “It would help the bowlers on the first two days but the wicket would generally be good for the batsmen. There might be some spin for the slow bowlers especially on the last day,” is Inzy’s assessment.
Pakistan are set to open with a fit-again Imran Farhat and Mohammad Hafeez after a series of disappointing opening stands in the preceding three Tests. The responsibility to drag Pakistan out of troubled waters will however continue to rest on the shoulders of Inzamam, his deputy Younis Khan and the ever-reliable Mohammad Yousuf.
Yousuf has scored 503 runs, Younis (320 from two Tests) and Inzamam (201) but the rest of the batsmen have completely flopped. Pakistani batsmen including the ‘big three’ have struggled against the odd couple of pacer Steve Harmison and leggie Monty Panesar and need to pull up their socks to seal the series at 1-2 rather than a dismal 3-0 or 2-0 defeat.
Both Harmison and Panesar have taken 16 wickets each in the series and would return to torment the Pakistanis on a ground that they love to play on. In fact Pakistan have the best record by a visiting team at The Oval having won three of the seven Tests they have played here. They won in 1992 and again in 1996 when Inzamam also played.
“In that match, Mushtaq (Ahmed) took five wickets on the last day. I hope Danish (Kaneria) would do the same here in this match,” said the Pakistan captain. Kaneria has taken 11 wickets in three Tests but has been unable to trouble the England batsmen.
The England batting, on the other hand continue to look more formidable with each match. Five of their batsmen have scored over 250 runs in the series and middle-order batsman Ian Bell is eyeing a fourth consecutive ton in the final match. He has scored effortless tons at Lord’s, Old Trafford and Headingley and has 357 runs at an average of 119. Skipper Andrew Strauss has accumulated 352, Paul Collingwood (293) Alastair Cook (280) and Kevin Pietersen (251).
The home team is set to stick with its winning formula and would be fielding the same team that won the third Test at Headingley.
Teams: Pakistan (from): Mohammad Hafeez, Imran Farhat, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Inzamam-ul-Haq (captain), Faisal Iqbal, Kamran Akmal, Danish Kaneria, Umar Gul, Shahid Nazir, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Sami.
England: Andrew Strauss (captain), Marcus Trescothick, Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Chris Read, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, Monty Panesar, Sajid Mahmood.
Source:The NewsMore on:england, Pakistan, Pakistan in England 2006
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