Hussain's despair as England earn draw

 

Ring out the old, ring in the new. When Big Ben gongs midnight on December 31st you can bet that Nasser Hussain will be the first England player to fill his glass to toast the New Year and thumb his nose at 2000. By any standards this has been a duff year for him, one where the runs have flowed like treacle, where umpires appear to have been recruited from homes for the visually impaired and where Dame Fortune has turned sour.

Yesterday, as the second Test headed towards the draw that had seemed inevitable for days, the England captain, for the second time in the game, was on the receiving end of an umpiring decision that left him beyond anger. It was so utterly bemusing that it took a visit to the umpires' room during the tea interval from the Sri Lankan match referee Ranjan Madugalle to establish precisely for what Hussain had been given out by the home umpire Mian Aslam.

The incident came in the 21st over of England's second innings as they chased 244 to win the match, or more realistically bat out 62 overs for the draw. Shaping to cut the off-spinner Arshad Khan, Hussain saw the ball turn back sharply from outside off stump. It clipped his pad before going through to the wicketkeeper Moin Khan, who immediately roared a jubilant appeal.

Given out, Hussain merely gave one of those looks that Stan Laurel would give Oliver Hardy when cast into another fine mess, and walked off without demur. Replays showed that his bat was not within hailing distance of the ball, and that furthermore it had struck his pad while still a good eight inches outside the line of off stump. Caught behind or lbw, it was a shocker of a decision either way.

Afterwards Hussain was not prepared to criticise umpires, who he concedes have the devil of a job and are under almost intolerable scrutiny, but nonetheless confessed to being as mystified as anyone by the decision. "I was completely bewildered," he said. "I just didn't know what to do. I didn't know how I was out. I just knew that I wasn't out caught behind."

Nor, on pain of upsetting the match referee for showing dissent, could he inquire of the umpire, however politely.

"Things are not going for me at present," he continued with alarming understatement, "but I have to be above that. I can only control the controllable. It would have really hurt if we had lost, because we didn't deserve to. Now I shall just be happy when New Year arrives because I have to have some way to draw a line under the whole thing and move on."

It will have done little to deter those who see an increased use of technology as the way forward, and adds some reinforcement to the view of the England coach Duncan Fletcher, submitted to the International Cricket Council a fortnight ago, that a system of appeals to the third umpire should be allowed, three each per innings for batting and bowling side. Had such a system been in place Hussain, who knows, may have gone on to make a century in the first innings while Graham Thorpe, who made 79, would not have got beyond 12.

In the final analysis, England had Mike Atherton to thank for steering them through, if not stormy seas, then a choppy swell. The former captain batted through the innings for three hours yesterday afternoon, making 65 of England's 125 for five before stumps were pulled and hands shaken with the shadows lengthening and half of the final hour remaining.

Atherton's was a fine technical piece of batting, flawless apart from some flappy attempts at hooks early on against the new ball, infinitely patient and watchful. Against the four spinners he faced, it was played with staggeringly soft hands - yet, with never fewer than four men round the bat, he also employed the sweep to good effect in hitting a total of five boundaries.

The rest of the England batting, however, will have encouraged Pakistan's spinners as they head for Karachi for Thursday's final Test. Marcus Trescothick was bowled through the gate by Saqlain Mushtaq's mystery delivery. Thorpe, without scoring, studiously watched a top-spinner from Arshad pitch on his middle stump and clip the top of off. Alec Stewart, despite trying to create an impression otherwise, got a thin edge on to his pad and was caught at silly point.

Most disconcerting, though, was Graeme Hick, who found himself going nowhere against Shahid Afridi's faster top-spinner and was bowled. If Michael Vaughan is fit again we may have seen the last of Hick for now and perhaps altogether.

Earlier Pakistan took their second innings to 269 for three, with Moin declaring once Abdur Razzaq, the 20-year-old all-rounder, had completed a fine maiden Test century which earned him the man of the match award.