Run rain at Bagh-e-Jinnah

S. DINAKAR

Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid had a great time with the bat in the tour opener.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

INDIA's only tour game against Pakistan `A' at Bagh-e-Jinnah ground brought for the side a definite gain in the form of two opening partnerships from Gautam Gambhir, searching for runs, and Wasim Jaffer, on a comeback trail. The two notched up half centuries and did so with confidence.

As coach Greg Chappell said ahead of the series, the openers played a critical role — preventing Pakistan's pace attack from making early inroads. The first wicket partnership had been a nebulous area for the Indians this season, and the side seeks to fill the breach.

Up against an enthusiastic bunch of pacemen, the partnerships of 81 and 72 (unbeaten), between Gambhir and Jaffer, was praiseworthy.

Pakistan found some luck in the opening department with the left-handed Imran Farhat forcing himself into the squad with a stroke-filled 107. With Yasir Hameed down with typhoid, there was a vacant berth at the top of the order and Farhat, who last played for Pakistan in Melbourne, in 2004, grabbed the opportunity with a fine effort.

There was a note of warning for the Indians from the preparatory contest — if the bowling was not disciplined, it would be taken apart. The attack, with the exception of Ajit Agarkar, was wayward on the second day and it ran into trouble.

Chappell later said that the Indian bowlers had difficulty adjusting to the Kookubura ball. "They use the SG ball in India. The seam in these balls lasts longer. The Kookubura ball swings more. It feels different."

The Indian pacemen bowled much better on the morning of the final day; the emphasis was on length and direction and making the scoring of runs difficult. On a brownish pitch, devoid of pace or bounce, the bowlers had to focus on the basics.

Irfan Pathan picked up three wickets without being anywhere close to his best. Zaheer Khan, having secured a hard-earned recall into the squad, struggled with his radar on day two, but improved on the final day; he is operating with a shorter run-up. R. P. Singh, like Zaheer, recovered from a poor beginning. Agarkar not only achieved some away movement, but was the most consistent of the pack. However, with three of the four pacemen being left-armers, there was a sense of sameness about the Indian attack.

Imran Farhat's century was the highlight of Pakistan's innings.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

The Big Guns — Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman — notched up fluent half centuries, while Yuvraj Singh, keen to make a mark in Tests, gave evidence of both flair and substance. India declared at 414 for seven.

Jaffer, in particular, showed a lot of promise. He was circumspect in the beginning, but gradually opened out with some elegant strokes.

The Pakistan `A' pacemen were a mixed bag. Rao Iftekar could not quite settle into the ideal off-stump line that would have suited his outswing bowling. Irshad's pace was not optimised by control. Arafat lacked both firepower and precision. Umar Gul has real quality, though, and he appeared to have recovered well from a career-threatening back injury. Gul bowled at a lively pace and probed the batsmen with seam movement.

Leg-spinner Mansoor Amjad disappointed, erring with his length and direction. The stylish Hasan Raza (75) timing the ball like a natural that he is, raced to his 50 in only 38 balls and this included an awesome straight six off Pathan. He is someone who has definitely not done justice to his ability at the international level.

Faisal Iqbal, a wristy shot-maker of distinctly sub-continental flavour, made an entertaining 87. He used his feet quite brilliantly against the off-spin of Harbhajan Singh, was decisive in his shot selection against the pacemen as he drilled the ball through the gaps. Pakistan `A's reply — 358 for nine declared — was not lacking in spirit.

Having squandered his chances against England recently, Raza failed to impress the selectors enough to win his place back. Iqbal, a heavy scorer in domestic cricket, could not earn a recall. The left-handed Asim Kamal, under pressure to produce a sizable score to retain his Test spot, managed just 14 before perishing while trying to pull R. P. Singh. He found his name missing from the squad.

The scores

India 414 for seven decl. (G. Gambir 53, W. Jaffer 58, R. Dravid 63, S. Tendulkar 74, V. V. S. Laxman 54-rtd., Yuvraj 59-rtd.) and 72 for no loss (G. Gambir 28 not out, W. Jaffer 35 not out) drew with Pakistan `A' 358 for nine decl. (Farhat 107, H. Raza 75, F. Iqbal 87, Z. Haidar 35, Pathan three for 82)