Pakistan who have already lost the 4-Tests Series 0-2 have bounced back to take the honours on the opening day of the fourth and final Test at The Oval. Inzamam-ul-Haq had won the toss and had asked England to bat first. Mohammad Asif making his comeback in the team after recovering from an elbow injury took four wickets to help his side bundle out England for just 173. Umar Gul also picked up four wickets but much of the damage was done at the top by Asif in his first spell. In reply, Pakistan closed the day at 96 for 1 losing just the wicket of Younis Khan, who had come in for the retired hurt Mohammad Hafeez. Imran Farhat has kept the momentum going for Pakistan with his strokeful unbeaten half century. Pakistan are in a great position to push forward and put themselves in a winning position. England will be trying their best to make quick inroads tomorrow or they would be in an unrealistic position of having to pile up a huge total in their second innings.
There were as many as three changes from the Pakistan camp with a new opening combination in Mohammad Hafeez and Imran Farhat replacing Salman Butt and Taufeeq Umar. The other change was that of Mohammad Asif coming in for Mohammad Sami and what a change it proved out to be with Asif tearing apart the England batting. The conditions were cloudy and with just two balls bowled by Asif, the rain came down bringing a halt to the play for about 20 minutes. Play resumed but after some time, what started out as a drizzle turned out to be a heavy shower forcing the players to remain indoors for most part of the morning session. An early lunch was taken with England at 27 for no loss in 8 overs.
Once play had resumed after lunch, it was all Pakistan as they got wickets at regular intervals. The struggling Marcus Trescothick was the first to go, out to a scratchy knock of 6 after fighting hard for 43 balls, he was forced to edge one away going delivery to gully by Umar Gul. In the 19th over, Mohammad Asif took the wickets of the inform Strauss (38) and Pietersen (0) in consecutive deliveries. Cook however ensured that Asif did not get a hat-trick in the next over, but that didn’t matter much for Pakistan as Asif rapped up Collingwood (5) on his pads right back in the crease with his indipper. England were in all sorts of problems at 64 for 4. This was the time when Ian Bell, another batsman in prime form had tried to put on a partnership with Cook and England started to put up a mini fightback. But with the introduction of spin in the form of Danish Kaneria, England lost Ian Bell with the right hander falling to a bat pad catch off Kaneria for 9. It was then Shahid Nazir who delivered the knock out punch with an inswinging yorker that had crashed onto the toes of Cook before the left hander could get his bat down. Alastair Cook made 40 and this turned out to be the highest score in this innings for England. Chris Read, the wicket keeper was left with the tail and England in the end managed to get to 173. It was a 46-run stand between Read (33) and Mahmood (15) for the 7th wicket that eventually got some respectability to the English total. England’s tail couldn’t wag long enough as the tail enders found the reverse swing from Asif and Umar Gul too tough to handle. England were bowled out just over 53 overs leaving Pakistan to bat for 32 overs in the day.
Mohammad Hafeez had to retire hurt when he was on 8 after the right hander had to retire hurt following a likely calf muscle pull. Younis Khan who had replaced him helped Pakistan gain the momentum along with Imran Farhat. It was in the 15th over that Sajid Mahmood could find a breakthrough for England by removing Younis Khan who had gloved a rising delivery onto his body to the wicket keeper. There weren’t any more alarms in the Pakistan innings and they ended the day at 96 for 1 in 22 overs. Imran Farhat was the first opener for Pakistan to score a half century in this series and giving him company is Mohammad Yousuf who is on 12. England’s bowling looked thin with the wicket getting easy for the batsmen in the latter half of the day. Tomorrow’s morning session could be different as there could be a cloud cover that would help the ball in moving around.