Making their presence felt

Published : Apr 17, 2004 00:00 IST

In the Lahore Test, Umar Gul and Yuvraj Singh showed that they had the ability to perform under pressure at the highest level. An appreciation by S. DINAKAR.

IT was a stormy post-match press conference at Multan. And the Sultan of Multan, Inzamam-ul-Haq, had to field a barrage of uncomfortable questions. Pakistan had succumbed tamely in the first Test, in a display that was bereft of passion and fire, and as the captain, Inzamam had to bear the brunt of the criticism. He left the conference a distressed man.

Inzamam had barely got out of the room, when coach Javed Miandad ordered a strenuous practice session. Only minutes earlier, Pakistan had suffered its first defeat on home soil against India and Miandad was acting tough.

There, under the burning sun of Multan, one of the hottest towns in this part of the world, the Pakistani cricketers ironed out their chinks, under the eagle eyes of Miandad. The home team had to get its act together and fast.

Pakistan's strength — bowling — had been dismissed ruthlessly by Virender Sehwag at Multan, and Miandad was getting his pacemen, who were wayward in their length and direction, to bowl at one stump.

The highly rated pace combination of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Sami had come up woefully short, the lanky Shabbir Ahmed had struggled with his run-up, and Pakistan could hardly apply pressure on the Indians.

The placid Multan pitch had also come under scrutiny and there was a considerable feeling in Pakistan that the side had not backed its pacemen. It became clear too that curator Andy Atkinson would leave a lot more grass on the surface in Lahore.

Gul calls the shots

But then, on any surface, the pacemen would still have to operate to the right line, and not provide any width to the batsmen. Enter Umar Gul.

In hindsight, the shin injury to Shabbir proved a blessing in disguise for Pakistan as Gul received a chance. The 20-year-old, it was, who turned the match around in the first session of the opening day.

Gul made his debut against Bangladesh in Karachi last year, and prior to the Lahore Test had a creditable Test record with 19 scalps in four Tests. However, the powerful Indian line-up represented a different challenge altogether for the young Pakistani.

He ran in smoothly, used the crease well, delivered from a lovely, high arm action and moved the ball both ways, which was absolutely critical to his success. And the discipline in his bowling was sending a strong signal to the more senior bowlers in the line-up.

The right-armer bowled just one spell in the first innings spread on either side of lunch, after Rahul Dravid elected to bat on a greenish pitch, but his five for 31 in 12 overs had rocked the Indian batting. While Akhtar and Sami struggled to discover their rhythm in the first innings, Gul was humming in the Pakistan attack.

Pakistan needed one paceman to send down a longish spell of consistent line and movement, and Gul just did that landing the ball around the off-stump and putting the seeds of doubts in the minds of the batsmen about which way the ball would move.

Gul's effort also showed that if tested in the `corridor' on a surface providing the seamers a measure of assistance, the Indian line-up, despite an array of glittering names, would be vulnerable.

In the second innings, Gul removed V. V. S. Laxman with a peach of a delivery, delivered from the edge of the crease, that straightened to knock back the off-stump. The startled look on the Hyderabadi's face told its own story.

Inzamam-ul-Haq led from the front with a century, Shoaib Akhtar uncorked a couple of quick spells in the second innings, and young batsmen Imran Farhat and Asim Kamal made vital contributions but it was Gul's well-directed bowling that provided Pakistan the winning edge at the Gaddafi Stadium.

Yuvraj comes of age

There can be positives for a side even in a defeat and Yuvraj Singh's maiden hundred in Tests was a major plus for India.

The cricketer from Chandigarh is blessed with talent, given his natural gift of timing and the knack of finding the gaps.

If at all there were questions, they only pertained to his temperament in a five-day game, but even in this area, Yuvraj has been making the right moves such as his century in each innings in the Duleep Trophy final this season.

Fine body balance, a wonderful range of shots, and the habit of putting away the loose deliveries without fail make him an extremely dangerous player for the opponents, given the quickness with which he can take the game away from them.

While his breezy half-century in Multan must have put Yuvraj in a confident frame of mind, those still were runs made at the expense of a demoralised attack. In Lahore, Yuvraj walked into a totally different situation.

The pitch was green, Gul was making the ball buzz around, the Indians had lost four major batsmen and there were only 94 runs on the board. The 23-year-old Yuvraj, in only his third Test, had to pull out something special.

This high pressure situation would have tested the nerves of even seasoned cricketers, yet the pace at which Yuvraj, included only because of a back injury to skipper Sourav Ganguly, gathered his runs marked him out as someone very special.

Before Yuvraj was afflicted by an attack of cramps, and became the last batsman to be dismissed, he had gathered an impressive 112 off only 129 deliveries, and India had recovered to a respectable 287.

Yet, it was not a chancy knock, with the batsman throwing caution to the winds; the left-hander kept the good deliveries away with a solid defensive blade, and whenever provided the slightest of opportunity, launched into his strokes.

This was an innings with resplendent strokes, with Yuvraj, using his feet, driving on both sides of the wicket, and cutting, pulling and sweeping with aplomb. The left-hander had found the right answers in the cauldron of an India-Pakistan Test.

Gul and Yuvraj have exciting Test careers ahead of them. Ability is a commodity they appear to have in abundance.

Gul out of third Test

Pakistan's Lahore bowling hero Umar Gul was ruled out of the series-deciding third Test against India because of back trouble.

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