March 7, 2002

Top order failure puts Lankans in command

A familiar top order batting failure left champions Pakistan with their backs against the wall on the opening day of the Asian Test Championship final against Sri Lanka at Gaddafi Stadium Wednesday.

Undisciplined batting combined with poor stroke selection led to Pakistan being dismissed for a modest 234.

Sri Lanka strengthened their grip when they showed the hosts the art of batting in a big match by reaching 94 for one despite losing Marvan Atapattu on the first ball of their innings. Sanath Jayasuriya was batting on 47 and with him was Kumar Sangakkara on 39.

In ideal conditions Pakistan batsmen repeated the same old mistakes that have plagued them - lack of application, determination and commitment. Most of the batsmen made brisk starts and timed the ball nicely to show that they were not struggling to put bat to the ball. But they failed to prolong their innings when they perished to reckless shots.

The strokes that led to the demise of Younis Khan and Inzamam-ul-Haq, shortly before lunch, summed up Pakistan's mental strength. Younis, having hit Muttiah Muralitharan for two fours and a six off successive deliveries, attempted a paddle sweep to ddrag the ball onto his stumps. Inzamam, three balls later, tried to cut Bhuddika Fernando to be caught by Jayasuriya at first slip.

The home team batsmen further exposed their inability to learn from mistakes when an in-form Yousuf Youhana repeated a similar shot like Inzamam to be snapped up by Sangakkara at the wicket off Fernando.

Abdul Razzaq, dropped second ball, trusted his pads more than his bat when he offered no stroke off a straight delivery from Chaminda Vaas to be adjudged leg before.

It would not be an exaggeration to say the batsmen committed hara-kiri. At times they looked they were playing limited overs cricket evident from the fact that when half of the side was back in the dressing room, the scoreboard showed 127 runs off just 27.2 overs. Probably, Muralitharan's presence played in the minds of the Pakistanis. But Fernando was an unlikely hero for Sri Lanka when he picked up three top order wickets to finish the day with three for 84. With Fernando exposing the tail, Muralitharan got into the lower order to take four for 55. Vaas bagged two for 62 but was far from his best when he overstepped 10 times as Sri Lanka were generous enough to concede 31 extras - 27 through no-balls.

Pakistan, put into bat, made a typical poor start when both the openers were back in the dressing room inside six overs in contrasting styles. Taufiq Umer was caught at forward short leg while playing a tentative forward defensive stroke. Two balls later Shahid Afridi was tragically run-out in a mix-up with Younis.

Inzamam and Younis repaired the damage by adding 86 for the third wicket in 86 minutes before a double blow left Pakistan tottering at 108 for four at lunch. Younis slammed eight boundaries and a six in his 66-ball innings. Pakistan never recovered and slumped to 147 for six shortly after lunch before Rashid Latif played a gutsy innings of 36, striking five fours in his 119-minute vigil at the crease.

Earlier in the day, Pakistan dropped Saqlain Mushtaq and included Shoaib Malik. While the team management showed wisdom by not playing Shoaib in the top order, they made a fool of themselves when the off-spinner was sent ahead of Rashid Latif. It may be recalled that Rashid scored 150 and 47 not out in the first Test against the West Indies last month.