IT IS ALWAYS difficult to be sure how to measure the ground gained or the damage inflicted in the phony war before the real campaign begins. Pakistan may be keeping their powder dry, they may have little genuine ammunition in their armoury, the opposition they are facing before the Test series may, or may not, be of the powder- puff variety. There is the distinct chance that nobody cares.
None of these possibilities should diminish the two, and almost three, thrilling sights on display before a fullish house on a beautiful day at one of the loveliest of all English grounds. The play began with a brief spell of breathtaking pace from a young Pakistan fast bowler which made early and deep cuts into the Kent innings. It then continued with a double- century partnership in which a young Kent batsman scored an exhilarating hundred.
Mohammed Sami is the bowler in question. He is slender for a fast merchant and far from the finished article. But his arm comes over rapidly, he has a big snap of the wrist and his pace and directness overshadowed the continuing debate on the form, fitness and legality of Shoaib Akhtar.
Sami's speed accounted for two wickets in his first two overs. He beat both David Fulton, providing short leg with a bat-pad catch, and Ed Smith, whose off stump went tumbling over, for pace. It was an exciting beginning which enraptured the large Pakistan contingent inside the ground.
Sami is only 20, made his first-class debut last October and played against England in a provincial match last November (when he removed Michael Atherton and Graeme Hick). By March he was in Pakistan's Test side and thoroughly unnerved New Zealand when he took 8 for 106 in the match and was instrumental in a second- innings collapse in which nine wickets went for 26 runs. But it is not all quite impeccable. Between the thunderbolts there are some fairly loose cannons. Besides the two wickets, his initial four- over spell cost 25 runs and seven no-balls. Sami will play at Lord's on Thursday, Shoaib will certainly not.
Kent recovered with marvellous vigour and Robert Key batted compellingly. If England are looking for a new batsman it is not preposterous to suggest that …