PAKISTAN DESERVES EVERY BIT OF IT

For the Pakistanis, the recovery marked the most remarkable of comebacks. The first act of the drama was an Irfan Pathan hat-trick and the concluding one the Pakistani celebration. What went wrong for India? In fact little we nt right for the visitors after the first session, writes S. Dinakar.

S. Dinakar

S. SUBRAMANIUM

A side that was 39 for six in the first session of the match, ended up recording its biggest Test triumph in terms of runs — a whopping 341 runs. It was an extraordinary third Test at Karachi's National Stadium.

For the Indians, the turnaround meant a bizarre slump in fortunes. For the Pakistanis, the recovery marked the most remarkable of comebacks. The first act of the drama was an Irfan Pathan hat-trick and the concluding one the Pakistani celebration. What went wrong for India? In fact little went right for the visitors after the first session.

India had three opportunities for a successive Test series triumph on Pakistani soil. The side bowled in the best conditions after Rahul Dravid won a good toss. After the dramatic early inroads, the last four Pakistani wickets added 206 runs.

Once the moisture in the pitch dried up, the Indian pacemen did not hit the deck hard enough to extract more life out of the pitch; especially since the Kookaburra ball tends to become softer after the first 20 overs.

Despite Pakistan's respectable 245 in the first innings, the famous Indian batting line-up was expected to gain a sizable lead — the green wicket had lost its early freshness — and build the pressure on the Pakistanis.

The big names fell flat and India eventually ended up conceding a seven-run lead.

KAMRAN AKMAL'S 113, the wicket-keeper batsman's fourth hundred, was a high quality effort.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

India had one final chance to strike early and restrict the Pakistani target to within 300. But then the Indian pace trio bowled at a friendly pace — at around 125 kmph — and Pakistan, with its first seven batsmen making half-centuries, an unprecedented feat in Test cricket, amassed 599 for seven. Despite favouring the batsmen in the second half, there was always something in the pitch for the bowlers who were willing to bend their back and the Indian pace attack was shown in poor light.

Coach Bob Woolmer deserves much credit for transforming the Pakistani side. There is cohesion in the team and it is evolving as a unit. The pacemen have bowled in the off-stump corridor and consistently probed the batsmen; an area where the wily coach has particularly trained his sights on. And the side has wriggled out of pressure situations. On those occasions when the top and middle order caved in, the bottom half proved the roadblock. Pakistan has become a resilient side with depth and options.

Youngsters such as Kamran Akmal have added considerably to the Pakistani side. Akmal is the kind who appears to relish adverse situations and looks upon them as possibilities. He has quick hands, balance and lovely anticipation behind the stumps. In front of it, the young Akmal is a champion batsman backing his considerable ability with matching temperament. His 113, the wicket-keeper batsman's fourth hundred, was a high quality effort. He drove, cut, pulled and flicked apart from displaying a solid blade of defence to better deliveries. Akmal gets into positions quickly and is decisive with his shot selection. But for his century, India might have had a different story to tell in the final Test.

Younis, who would like to carry the Indian attack with him wherever he travels, emerged with the Man of the Series award. The stand-in captain ensured that the morale of the side did not drop in the absence of inspirational captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, who could not recover in time from a muscular injury of the back.

Younis, an effervescent character, captained well, making the right moves. He showed a tremendous commitment to the job, even taking up himself the responsibility of fielding at silly point. There were phases when the Indian bowling was disciplined but once again the pacemen were lacking in speed. When the pitch loses juice, deliveries at around 125 kmph are hardly going to trouble a frontline batting line-up.

The all-left arm composition of the Indian pace attack deprived it of the variety needed to unsettle the batsmen. The batsmen could settle into a rhythm since the bowlers turned predictable. As Younis said, "All that we needed to do was look for the ball coming in from the left-arm paceman. Their attack was one-dimensional." The delivery from the right-arm paceman that moves away from the right-hander is the key ball in Test cricket. And if someone can also bring the ball in — the impressive Mohammad Asif achieved this consistently — then the problems increase for the batsmen.

The fact that Asif was delivering his off-cutters from close to the stumps, which is otherwise the ideal releasing point for the away going ball, made it difficult for the batsmen to pick him. Their tentativeness manifested in their footwork. The 23-year-old Shiekhpura lad, hand-picked by Woolmer, operates at a lively speed and, with a strong wrist action, is able to move the ball both in the air and off the pitch.

Asif prised out Rahul Dravid with a peach of an away going delivery in the first innings and knocked back the stumps of Virender Sehwag, V. V. S. Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar on the fourth day. And his sharp off-cutter that rearranged woodwork and sent Laxman back in the first innings may have been the ball of the match.

Asif's incisive bowling had enabled the side to maintain the pressure with the new ball. Shoaib Akhtar, who can dent the opposition psychologically, generated extreme pace from one end and there was no respite at the other end as well, with Asif giving a torrid time to the batsmen with his movement.

And the experienced Abdul Razzaq proved an ideal foil, hitting the seam consistently. He put in a lot of effort in his bowling — he also made hefty contributions with the willow, striking the ball with typical ease — and there was some reward for him at the end of it all.

Resultantly, the Indian batting suffered. The Indians were up against a superior pace attack but then these highly rated batsmen were expected to stand up and be counted in the cauldron. They let themselves down in a pressure situation. Yuvraj Singh with his 144-ball 122 did defy with a brave hundred, but the Indians, set a target of 607, could not even take the match into the fifth day.

Yuvraj Singh's century went in vain.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Yuvraj was the lone exception. Technically, in the positive nature of his forward movement and the preciseness of his footwork, he is a vastly improved batsman. But his was an effort in vain. The side that needed to bat out 164 overs to save the third Alliaz Test, lasted just 58.4 overs. The team was dismissed for a disappointing 265. Sourav Ganguly looked confident in both innings, but could not consolidate on starts.

This is a different Pakistan side from the team of 2004 that lacked the self-belief to overcome adversity after being inserted by India on a green wicket in the decider at Rawalpindi. The Test had begun so differently for India. Pathan produced quite the perfect inswinger to consume the in-form Mohammad Yousuf. The left-arm paceman had also recorded the 36th hat-trick in Test cricket. He returned with a five-wicket innings haul.

Significantly, Pathan is the first bowler to achieve the feat in the opening over of a Test match. And he is only the second Indian, Harbhajan Singh being the other, to register a hat-trick.

It was a dramatic first over. Off the fourth ball, the left-handed Salman Butt, edging a delivery leaving him, was held splendidly at first slip by Rahul Dravid, diving to the left. Younis Khan was tentative against a delivery zipping into him and Pathan won his leg-before appeal. Yousuf received an outstanding delivery, which swung in and straightened after pitching. Pakistan was zero for three. And how the tale changed subsequently! The Test saw the talented Faisal Iqbal celebrating his return with a maiden Test hundred in the second innings. Javed Miandad's nephew, is a wristy player with a sub-continental flavour. The right-hander with sparkling footwork collected runs with ease on both sides of the wicket.

Younis and Mohammad Yousuf, who crossed 5000 Test runs in the match, made sizable contributions in the second innings and Imran Farhat secured something out of a comeback with a strokeful half-centuy in the second innings.

The century partnership for the first wicket virtually shut India out of the contest.