Inzamam's brilliance saves Pakistan the blushes

INZAMAM-UL-HAQ saved Pakistan from self-destruction after Bangladesh nearly pulled off its maiden victory in the third match of the three-Test series at the Multan Cricket Stadium.

RIZWAN EHSAN ALI

The jubilant Pakistan team poses with the trophy. — Pic. AFP-

INZAMAM-UL-HAQ saved Pakistan from self-destruction after Bangladesh nearly pulled off its maiden victory in the third match of the three-Test series at the Multan Cricket Stadium.

The Pakistan cricket selectors' mind-boggling decision to try out youngsters in place of experienced players such as Yousuf Youhana and Danish Kaneria, who were rested, backfired in Inzamam's hometown. None of the three Test debutants — paceman Yasir Ali, number six batsman Farhan Adil and opener Salman Butt — could do justice to their selection.

It was only the sheer brilliance of Inzamam's "innings of his life" — 138 not out — that helped Pakistan pull off a sensational one-wicket win. With that victory Rashid Latif became only the fourth Pakistan captain after Imran Khan, Javed Miandad and Wasim Akram to register a 3-0 series victory at home.

One should not take anything away from the ever-improving Bangladesh, but Pakistan cricket is so full of surprises that even those who follow the game closely are sometimes baffled by the decisions of the selection committee.

Both Kaneria and Youhana played in the first two Tests, which Pakistan won comfortably. Cricket is a game of professionals and if a player is performing up to the mark it makes little sense to drop him from the playing XI.

But the Pakistan think-tank seems to have other ideas and is adamant on giving youngsters a chance in a so-called rebuilding process of the team. Trying 26 youngsters — 21 in Test matches and five in one-day internationals — during the last three years itself tells the story of how easy it is to earn a Pakistan blazer.

What the selectors don't realise is that in modern day cricket, the level of competition has gone up. It's asking too much from a youngster to perform straightaway in international cricket. The Bradmans, Tendulkars, Miandads and Sobers' are not easy to find these days.

After two dead pitches in Karachi and Peshawar, where Shoaib Akhtar had to bowl his heart out under smearing temperatures, a seamer-friendly wicket was offered at Multan. It was sheer injustice to Shoaib Akhtar. If such a lively track was in the mind of the Pakistan cricket administrators, then why was the Rawalpindi Express allowed to station himself back in Durham to play county cricket? Had Shoaib played in Multan, surely Bangladesh would not have made 281 in its first innings.

Inzamam-ul-Haq cracks the ball to the fence during his match-winning century knock. — Pic. AFP-

Looking at the composition of the Pakistan team for the third Test, seven out of the 11 had little experience of Test matches. The first Test hero Yasir Hameed, opener Mohammad Hafeez, Shabbir and Umer were playing only in their third Test while the other three — Farhan, Yasir Ali and Salman — were making their debut. Of the seniors, Saqlain Mushtaq was playing his first international game since the horrific World Cup, Younis Khan was making a comeback after he skipped the first two Test matches due to some personal problems and Inzamam was struggling to get back into his rhythm. In this scenario, Bangladesh looked more stable than Rashid Latif's men. But Inzamam came up with one of the best knocks of his career and helped Pakistan snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Habibul Bashar and Javed Omar, the two in-form Bangladesh batsmen, combined in a 74-run second-wicket stand and gave Bangladesh a perfect launch in its quest to challenge Pakistan after Khaled Mahmud won the toss and elected to bat.

Javed, who scored his maiden century in the second Test at Peshawar, made 38 while Bashar continued to plunder runs in the series with a fine 72. Debutant Yasir Ali, an 18-year-old fast bowler from Attock, was badly exposed and was hit all over the ground by Javed and Bashar as he conceded 31 runs in his first six overs. The youngster made some amends in his second spell and got danger man Bashar out before Alok Kapali became one of Umer's three victims of the day. Bangladesh, which at one stage was comfortably placed at 101 for one, slumped to 179 for five.

Razin Saleh, without doubt, was the find of the series for Bangladesh. Though the tiny middle-order batsman was dismissed for 49, he certainly showed a lot of temperament as he occupied the crease for three hours and added 62 runs with Khaled Mashud. Razin was rather unlucky as he was run out with only two overs remaining. Mashud's hard drive ricocheted off Yasir Ali's foot and hit the stumps at the non-striker's end and Bangladesh finished the day at 248 for six. Saqlain Mushtaq was ineffective on a wicket with a tinge of grass and didn't get any reward with his famous "doosra" off the wicket.

An eventful second day saw as many as 18 wickets fall and Pakistan concede the lead for the second time in the series. Shabbir, who went wicketless in his 21 overs on the first day, polished off the Bangladesh tail in quick time. However, by the time Shabbir claimed the last wicket of Tapash Baisya — one of the two changes made by Bangladesh from the team that played the second Test — the visiting team had piled up 281 runs. Umer took four for 86, while Shabbir finished with three for 70.

The tendency of the Pakistani batsmen to play away from the body was fully exploited by Khaled Mahmud and three of his four victims gave catches either in the slips or to wicketkeeper Mashud.

Pakistan's paceman Umar Gul appeals successfully for a leg before decision against Mohammad Rafique in the second innings. Gul took eight wickets in the match. — Pic. AFP-

There was no demon in the wicket, but the Pakistani batsmen got out playing needless drives against Mahmud. Hafeez was trapped leg before off a Mahmud delivery that kept low, while Inzamam, Salman and Younis, all gave catches behind the wicket. Pakistan lost the top four batsmen with only 121 runs on board. After Mahmud did his job, it was the turn of left-arm spinner Mohammad Rafique to mesmerise the Pakistan batsmen as the home team lost the last seven wickets for just 54 runs.

The highly-rated Yasir Hameed, with two centuries in his first two Test innings at Karachi in August, was the top-scorer with 39 before he was bowled by Rafique. Farhan Adil made 25 but never looked comfortable against the spinner before he was trapped leg before. Rafique then mopped up the tail as the Pakistan innings folded for only 175 in just four hours.

After Pakistan conceded a 106-run lead, the two young pacemen Shabbir and Umer bowled to a perfect line and length, just around off stump and were rewarded with two wickets each. Hannan Sarkar, Habibul Bashar and Mohammad Ashraful went cheaply, while Javed could manage just 16. A short delivery from Shabbir struck Alok Kapali just above the right eye and forced him to leave the field. Bangladesh stretched its lead to 183 and ended the day's play at 77 for four.

A dust storm interrupted the third day's play twice in the morning. There was some controversy involving a catch of Alok Kapali, which cost the Pakistan skipper and wicket-keeper Rashid Latif dearly in the end. Television replays clearly showed that the ball had dropped out of Latif's gloves as he rolled over twice and claimed a catch. The Bangladesh team management lodged a complaint to match referee Mike Procter against the Pakistan captain and levelled charges of unfair play and bringing the game into disrepute. Latif should consider himself lucky to escape with a ban of five one-day internationals, as he could have faced a ban of five Tests or 10 one-day internationals under Level 4 offence of ICC's players' code of conduct. The television evidence was clear to prove Latif was guilty although the Pakistan captain argued during the hearing that he completed the catch before the ball popped out of his hand. However, the camera clearly showed that the ball had touched the ground before the catch was completed.

Razin's 42 and Khaled Mashud's 28 helped Bangladesh to set Pakistan a target of 262 runs. Bangladesh could add only another 77 to its overnight score of 77 for four. Both Umer and Shabbir were the star performers with four wickets apiece and came in for praise from the captain for their effort in the absence of Mohammad Sami and Shoaib Akhtar.

Salman Butt started the run-chase in a hurry as if Pakistan needed to get to the target in less than 40 overs. Pakistan had more than seven sessions to score the runs, and Salman, with virtually no foot movement, was lucky to score seven boundaries in his 34-ball 37 before substitute fielder Mashrafe Bin Murtaza plucked a Jonty Rhodes style catch off his second attempt at point to signal an end to Salman's attempts.

Bangladesh spinner Mohammad Rafique (middle) celebrates with team-mates Mohammad Ashraful and Alok Kapali after dismissing Yasir Hameed in Pakistan's first essay. Rafique claimed five wickets as Pakistan was dismissed cheaply for 175. — Pic. AFP-

A Bangladesh victory was very much on the cards when Hafeez, Yasir Hameed, Younis Khan and Farhan Adil left in quick succession. Pakistan had not crossed the 100-run mark but Inzamam-ul-Haq was holding fort at the other end. When Rashid Latif was neatly caught by Bashar in the slips, half an hour before close, only Inzamam stood between Bangladesh and victory as Pakistan finished the day at a precarious 148 for six.

Perhaps the Bangladesh players were not aware that Inzamam had saved his best for the next day. With scores of 0, 35 not out, 43 and 10 in his previous four Test innings, Inzamam had struggled for his place in the side until the fourth morning. With 113 more required for victory, Inzamam found useful partners in Shabbir and Umer to guide Pakistan home. After Mahmud had Saqlain Mushtaq caught behind, Pakistan limped to 164 for seven before Shabbir put on 41 invaluable runs for the eighth wicket. However, a dubious leg before decision by Zimbabwean umpire Russell Tiffin terminated Shabbir's effort. Rafique's delivery clearly got a big inside edge before hitting the pads in line of the stumps.

Inzamam completed his 18th century — his first in the fourth innings of a Test match — off 174 balls with 14 fours and a big six off Rafique over long on. Umer, whose contribution was only five in a partnership of 52, and Inzamam brought Pakistan within four runs of victory before a suicidal run out gave Bangladesh a glimmer of hope.

Inzamam gave a clear call of two runs before he decided against the second as Umer failed to beat a strong Ashraful throw from the deep. With five balls remaining in the over and last man Yasir Ali facing Mahmud, Inzamam had a tense three minutes at the non-striker's end. Yasir managed to get a single to fine leg before Inzamam hit Mahmud for his 20th boundary of the innings and finished off the match shortly after lunch even as his hometown supporters came running on to the field to congratulate their hero.