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Page last updated at 20:40 GMT, Wednesday, 18 August 2010 21:40 UK

Jonathan Agnew column: The Oval, day one

Jonathan Agnew
By Jonathan Agnew
BBC cricket correspondent

The opening day of the third Test at The Oval produced some really excellent cricket. It was an extraordinary day and was just what the series needed.

It is clear that Thursday is critical if Pakistan are going to get back into the series. If they can get enough runs - a total of 350 would give them a lead in excess of 100 - that would get England sweating a bit and then we will have a real contest on our hands.

The clouds came over just before the toss but The Oval has always been a bat-first wicket and Andrew Strauss did the right thing in opting to have first use of this surface.

England, who were 94-7 at one point, recovered admirably but an overall score of 233 is one they should be very disappointed with.

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The ball just did enough in the morning session to keep Pakistan interested. Mohammad Asif in particular, even though he took three wickets compared to five for the debutant Wahab Riaz, was the one to watch.

Every ball is sent down on off-stump, and he has this ability to move a couple of balls one way, then the next the other way. He has a brilliant way of teasing batsmen, who never know which way the ball will move.

Subtle movement in both directions is such a difficult skill to master as a bowler, but Asif makes it look so easy - like someone toying with a yo-yo at the end of their fingers.

He removed Alastair Cook with a good ball. If you are a batsman who is out of touch and struggling those are the sort of balls you get, and the ones you invariably nick.

If I had to put £100 on who Andrew Strauss's opening partner will be in the first Ashes Test in Brisbane I would say it will be Cook.

But you have to offer an incentive to county cricketers, and it may be that if he also fails in the second innings it will be time to let someone else have a go at Lord's.

James Anderson, Graeme Swann, Wahab Riaz
England bowlers Anderson and Swann have an important day in front of them

There was a feeling about Kevin Pietersen's horrible 80 at Edgbaston, when he was dropped several times, that it might not do him much good.

He did not play very well after Cook and Strauss had gone, trying to advance down the wicket without any joy. His was a tortured innings.

Matt Prior is the most in-form England batsman and has a commanding style of playing which is very good when you are with the tail - that is why he was selected after all.

He bristles at the crease and hits boundaries, and this was the second time he has rescued England in this series. His 84 not out could turn out to be crucial.

England's bowling was pretty poor. James Anderson and Stuart Broad failed to get much movement, and until Steven Finn came on they looked fairly uninspired.

Anderson's wicket right at the end was certainly an important boost, however.

But the day belonged to Riaz, of course, who re-appeared as nightwatchman. He is quite a character.

He dreamt the night before of getting all 10 wickets, and there is a bit of Mitchell Johnson about him, especially when you see the odd ball fire off towards the slip cordon.

But he bowled left-arm seamers with some pace, and like all the Pakistan bowlers have managed in the series, he moved it around just enough to prove a danger.

Jonathan Agnew was speaking to BBC Sport's Oliver Brett

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see also
Pakistan take charge of Oval Test
18 Aug 10 |  England
Prior calls for England fightback
18 Aug 10 |  England
England v Pakistan day one photos
18 Aug 10 |  England
Strauss support for Cook & Swann
17 Aug 10 |  England
Pakistan lose injured Zulqarnain
16 Aug 10 |  Pakistan
Unchanged England stick with Cook
15 Aug 10 |  England
Pakistan in England 2010
07 Sep 10 |  Cricket
Live cricket on the BBC
26 Oct 11 |  Cricket

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