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Pakistan has to get its act together

By S. Dinakar



HOW DO WE LIFT OUR SPIRITS? Pakistan team manager Haroon Rashid (left) and skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq at the Multan Cricket Stadium. — Photo: S. Subramanium

LAHORE, APRIL 2. The Pakistan team that went down to India in the first Test appeared flat, lacking the fire and passion of teams that its coach Javed Miandad so proudly represented in his time. The side led by Inzamam-ul-Haq caved in meekly losing by an innings and 52 runs.

Miandad, an inspirational cricketer in his time, was clearly concerned and soon after the prize distribution ceremony at the conclusion of the Multan Test he ordered a practice session for the team. Pakistan will have to pick up the pieces once again as it is never easy for a team to bounce back after going down in the first match of a three-Test series. The setback for the host in the ODI series did not really hurt the supporters of the team since the matches were closely contested. Now the mood is changing, and Pakistan is under increasing pressure to deliver.

Shoaib Akhtar, about whom there was so much hype before the series, appeared stingless and Mohammed Sami has not bowled with much penetration either. In striving for pace, they have erred in direction and length and the Indians have taken full toll.

There was much talk about the grass on the surface in Multan being removed before the Test, but Inzamam did have a point when he said that the Pakistani bowlers had delivered on such pitches before. Sheer pace is not going to rattle this mighty Indian batting line-up and the Pakistani pacemen have not been able to achieve reverse swing. When they attempted to do so in Multan, they were flicked with panache by the Indian batsmen.

It does appear that Shoaib and Sami have become victims of their own reputations as the fast and furious merchants of speed. In Multan, the Pakistani attack needed to switch to Plan B, that is line and length bowling around the off-stump to a packed off-side field and making the Indian batsmen work hard for their runs. A bowling attack requires discipline to carry out such tactics, a quality that Shoaib & Co. lacked.

History tells us that it has not always been bowlers of great pace who have done the damage against India. Sarfaraz Nawaz, Sikandar Bakht, Azeem Hafeez and Aaquib Javed among others, were not really quick but they could pose searching questions to the Indian batsmen with their swing, cut and control. It is not without reason that Miandad, despite Sarfaraz's reputation of being a loud mouth, wants this former paceman as the bowling coach.

The ideal line to bowl at the Indian batsmen should be just short of a length on the off-stump, with the deliveries moving away from the right-hander. The Pakistani bowlers can ill-afford to provide width on the off-side, or offer free-hits on the leg-side. The tall Shabbir Ahmed, who can extract natural bounce, is the best equipped to bowl this line, but he struggled for rhythm in Multan.

Leg-spinner Danish Kaneria, who will surely play the second Test in Lahore, now that the off-colour Saqlain Mushtaq has been omitted from the squad, should strengthen the spin attack. There is a definite element of fizz in his bowling, so essential for a leg-spinner.

If the bowlers let Pakistan down in the first Test, the lack of application from the batsmen did not help matters either for Miandad. There are far too many stroke-makers in this Pakistan line-up but the team requires someone to provide solidity at one end, even as runs are made at the other. The Indian bowlers were right on target for most part, and it was unlikely that the Pakistani batsmen would get away with extravagant strokes.

Partnerships are the heart of any innings, and the Pakistanis just could not put together big stands, apart from the 160-run association between Yasir Hameed and Inzamam in the first innings. And partnerships where both batsmen go after the bowling are unlikely to succeed. Even in that record 336-run third-wicket stand between Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, Sehwag attacked while Tendulkar wisely played the second fiddle.

The Pakistani selectors appeared to have erred in leaving out the experienced Younis Khan. He is a technically sound middle-order batsman with good temperament, and would have surely been an asset to the side. There is a definite lack of experience at the top of the order, and lack of depth in the bottom half. Pakistan needs to include a sixth specialist batsman ahead of Abdul Razzaq, who is now more of a batting all-rounder.

The catching also needs to improve dramatically for Pakistan. The home team has to get its act together before April 5. Miandad has quite a job on his hands.

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