As The World Turns

It seems these days as though on any given day there's usually at least a couple of Test matches going on somewhere around the world. We've just seen Sri Lanka defeat South Africa by one wicket in what was obviously a thrilling finish, and England draw away to a much more comfortable win over Pakistan.

I didn't see much of either game (well, I didn't see any of the Sri Lankan one) so it's difficult to comment in depth, but it's enough to say that I've always regarded Mahela Jayawardene as a truly special batsman and it's been good to have his greatness confirmed these past few months.

It's also true to say that I couldn't stand Dean Jones as a commentator - something to do with his excessive mateyness and his inability to say anything remotely original - and I won't lose any sleep if he's never heard from again after his, er, 'clumsy' remark during the Colombo game.

Back in Leeds (I can't quite bring myself to refer to the ground as 'Headingley Carnegie'), England were excellent, while Pakistan were very disappointing, capitulating lamely to an England side that played increasingly tight and powerful cricket on either side of the Pennines.

Prior to the series much was made of the influence of Woolmer's coaching, his relationship with Inzamam and the players' discovery and re-discovery of Islamic devotion in turning the Pakistan side from a perennially inconsistent blend of disparate talents and personalities into a lean and mean unit that was good enough to challenge the world's best. While there appeared to be something in this during the last English winter, especially in the home series victory over England, they have fallen away badly on this tour, something which they, and their many followers, must feel very uncomfortable about.

True, they have been denied the services of Shoaib Akhtar, the vaunted Mohammad Asif and the Hove favourite Rana Naved-ul-Hasan by injury, but, unlike England, who, since Lord's, seem to have drawn strength from the absence of Flintoff (and Vaughan and Giles), Pakistan have withered. They have frequently appeared little more than a three man team, relying almost completely on Mohammad Yousuf, Inzamam and Younis Khan (who didn't even play at Lord's), with no opening pair, a pronounced tendency to drop catches and run each other out, and a range of mediocre bowlers (although we all know what Kaneria is capable of and I maintain that much more will be seen and heard of Umar Gul). All in all, in the last two Tests, much of their cricket has bordered on the shambolic.

England's progress must be set against Pakistan's decline, but there can be no doubt that England have rediscovered an intensity and bite to their game which largely went missing in the first six months after The Ashes were regained.

While life is certainly easier when you're playing at home and have a new player who's better than the hitherto established one whom he's replaced (and no prizes for guessing who I'm talking about), England have shown a desire and mental toughness which has been absent from Pakistan's displays.

Strauss must take much of the credit for this - Fletcher has rightly praised his mental strength, as evidenced by his centuries at Lord's and Leeds and his increasingly assured captaincy - but we've also started to glimpse a little of what Saj Mahmood could be capable of, both with the ball and in the field, where his first innings run out of Younis set the tone for some bristling English out-cricket.

I've already said enough about Harmison and Panesar, Bell, Cook and Collingwood, so the final word on Headingley has to go with Chris Read. As I said after his recall here, I was pleased that he'd been picked again but was concerned about how he would cope with such an intensely pressurized situation. I needn't have worried. He appeared to keep flawlessly, and, after some early luck, batted just about as well as could be expected in both innings. I'm still not convinced that Jones won't be back for Brisbane but Chris has at least given himself a fighting chance.

It's all he ever wanted, and with Fletcher even starting to praise Panesar, you never know where it could lead...

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