Pakistan pray for a miracle on return to The Oval
at The Oval
Four years after suffering the ignominy of becoming the first team in history to forfeit a Test, Pakistan return to The Oval for the third Test against England here on Wednesday (today) with their backs against the wall.
The 2006 Oval Test was Pakistanís last match of the series which the visitors had already lost 0-2 following defeats in Manchester and Leeds.
Pakistan are once again trailing 0-2 in the ongoing series though its still alive as technically there is a possibility that Salman Butt and his men level it by winning here and at Lordís later this month. But itís like a million-to-one shot.
Pakistanís batting is as solid as a wafer though there are hopes within the team that the return of senior batsman Mohammad Yousuf should bring about an improvement.
ďYousuf looked pretty good in Worcester,Ē said Salman Butt, the Pakistan captain, referring to his teamís rain-hit practice game against Worcestershire last week where Yousuf hit an unbeaten 40.
But Salman was quick to add that Yousuf might take some time to regain full form. ďHe hasnít played for quite some time and might take some time,Ē said Salman, who is at the helm of an inexperienced and under-achieving team.
In that fateful 2006 Test here, Yousuf hit a flawless 128 and will need to come out with a similar effort if Pakistan are to make a comeback in the series.
Yousuf, 35, may lend some stability to an otherwise fragile batting line-up but other fellow batsmen are expected to struggle again at The Oval though the pitch looks pretty flat.
ďItís not about the wicket,Ē said Salman. ďWickets have generally been good in this series. The problem is that it has been pretty overcast throughout our tour so far. The conditions are the same here. Itís tough,Ē he added.
Pakistan, already unable to match the English might, have been further affected by a couple of injuries.
Zulqarnain Haider, who hit a defiant 88 on debut at Edgbaston after replacing wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal will be heading for home because of a broken finger. That will allow Akmal, who has been awful behind the stumps, to make a comeback after sitting on the sidelines for just a single Test.
Pacer Umar Gul was ruled out because of a hamstring injury and will be replaced either by Tanvir Ahmed or Wahab Riaz ó the two fast bowlers who are yet to play any role in the series.
Salman was unwilling to share his line-up for the third Test.
ďWe havenít decided about it and will name the eleven after taking a look at the wicket today,Ē he said before his teamís final training session.
He hoped that Pakistan will bounce back like cornered tigers.
ďPakistan are known to play well when they are pushed against the wall and I hope we will do that here,Ē he said.
Will Salman and his teammates take the field today with The Oval fiasco on their mind?
ďWhy should we,Ē he asked. ďIt hasnít been discussed because we just need to discuss good things,Ē said Salman, who wasnít a part of the team for the 2006 Test in which Pakistan refused to take the field after being accused of ball-tampering by umpire Darrell Hair. The Test was awarded to England.
Andrew Strauss, the England captain, also tried to play down The Oval controversy.
ďIt happened very quickly, I donít think anyone quite knew how to react to it,Ē he said referring to the Test.
ďOnce the umpires and Inzamam (Pakistan captain in that Test) had put their cards on the table it was quite hard to find a way of getting us back on the pitch.Ē
Following big wins in the last two Tests, Englandís confidence is high which can be gauged from the fact that in unusual move Strauss announced that England will field an unchanged eleven at The Oval three days before the Test.
Pakistan (from): Imran Farhat, Salman Butt (captain), Azhar Ali, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Yousuf, Umar Amin, Umar Akmal, Kamran Akmal (wkt), Mohammad Aamer, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Asif, Tanvir Ahmed, Wahab Riaz.
England: Andrew Strauss (captain), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior (wkt), Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Steven Finn.
Umpires: Steve Davis (Aus) and Tony Hill (NZ) TV umpire: Billy Bowden (NZ). Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri).