x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Gul shows up full-time batsmen

He looked as though he might have saved the day for Pakistan if he had not run out of partners, writes Amith Passela.

England may have finished their second innings yesterday 435 runs ahead of Pakistan, leaving them in need of a record run chase, but were it not for Umar Gul, this game would likely have been over much earlier. Pakistan began the fourth day of the Test needing one of their overnight batsmen to hold his nerve and get the eight runs needed to avoid the follow-on .

Gul, in at No 9, more than fulfilled his brief with a thrilling display of batting that put most of the higher-order batsmen to shame. He then followed that with the ball - taking three wickets - to keep his side in the game. The first half of the day belonged to Gul, but it ended as Matt Prior, the England wicketkeeper, who scored a brilliant century to stretch their lead to 434 and leave Pakistan needing to achieve the highest second-innings run chase of all time.

Prior led England's revival with Graeme Swann, Chris Broad and Steven Finn, who shared a 49-run stand for the last wicket, but at 98 for six, England were only 270 runs ahead, a tough if not unreachable total. Salman Butt, the Pakistan captain, bowled his spinners, Danish Kaneria and Shoaib Malik, far too long when the last pair were at the crease. It was almost like he did not want to bat again on the day, but England made the declaration and ended his match by getting him out in the fourth over as Pakistan reeled to 15-3 at stumps.

Gul is one of the senior members in the team, having made his Test debut in 2003, and he took responsibility yesterday. With a decent record of 107 wickets in 29 Tests, he is expected to be their front-line bowler, but he proved he was no mug with the bat, either. The 26-year-old paceman stroked a career best 65 not out and snapped up three wickets as England were rocking early in their innings. Gul batted so well that he won praise from Ramiz Raja, the former Pakistan captain and opener, who was commenting on the game, saying: "He could have done better had he opened the innings. Such were some of his strokes he played, particularly the drive-shot, both on and off [side]."

Gul drove judiciously and played some stunning pull-shots. It was quite unfortunate to see his partner, Mohammed Asif, running himself out to end what could have been a great rescue act for Pakistan. Gul's entertaining 46-ball knock contained eight hits to the fence and four clearing the boundary, and the 10th-wicket stand was worth 35 valuable runs. He was particularly severe on Steven Finn, hitting him for three sixes, all towards the square leg fence, and three fours, in successive overs.

Kamran Akmal, who has been under fire for his poor glove-work, took a stunning catch diving to his left to give Gul his first wicket, the prized scalp of Kevin Pietersen. The man-of-the-day then got rid of Jonathan Trott, bowled by a delivery that kept low, and had Paul Collingwood trapped after the batsman was dropped first ball by Kamran. It was ironic that Akmal, the wicketkeeper, took four catches given Pakistan would have been in a much better situation had they taken the chances that came their way in the opening day of the Test.

Andrew Strauss, the England captain, was given a life at 15, Kamran putting down a regulation catch before he went on to make 45. Eoin Morgan, who made a top score of 130 should have gone at five had the Pakistani gloveman been a bit smart, and Collingwood should have been stumped before he reached his half century. And, finally, there was a wicket for a spinner after the previous 23 wickets had fallen to the pacemen. Kaneria saw the TV referral go in his favour for a leg before decision on a fullish delivery, to get Swann's wicket.

apassela@thenational.ae