March 10, 2002

Weather holds key to Pakistan's chances of saving Test

Pakistan were seeing light at the other end of the tunnel after Mother Nature came to their rescue and curtailed fourth day's play to just 32 overs in the Asian Test Championship final against Sri Lanka at the Gaddafi Stadium Saturday.

Nearly 323 minutes were lost due to intermittent drizzle as Pakistan progressed from an overnight score of 193 for five to 248 without any further damage. The reigning champions still require 46 runs to avoid the ignominy of an innings defeat.

The home team can take heart from meteorological department's forecast for thunderstorm late Saturday evening. In case there is no rain Pakistani batsmen will have to battle out for the remaining 97 overs scheduled to be bowled on the final day.

Not that Sri Lanka didn't had their chance to end the match in the 32 overs that were bowled on the penultimate day. They got the opportunity as early as in the 15th ball of the day but Mahela Jayawardene failed to hold a regulation catch off Shoaib Malik in the first slip off Muttiah Muralitharan.

That was the only blemish by the Sri Lankans in the match but may now cost them the lone possession of the Asian championship title.

Pakistan's hopes of escaping with a draw rest on the broad shoulders of experienced Inzamam-ul-Haq who was holding the fort brilliantly and batting with great deal of patience and responsibility.

The big man, starting the day at 38, was unbeaten at 72, his first half century in five innings. But more importantly, he has been occupying the crease for 268 minutes. His innings is laced with three boundaries.

"My spirits are high and I am geared up to play out tomorrow's day. I know a big responsibility lies on my shoulders and I am prepared to take up the challenge," the 30-year vice-captain said.

Inzamam, who threw away his first turn to a poor shot, has looked compact and a model of concentration. He has kept his head down, hasn't disturbed the ball outside the off stumps and countered the dangerous Muralitharan with great care.

"The objective is to take bulk of the strike and save the partner from being exposed. I don't suspect the potentials of my remaining partners. It's just the need of the hour since I am the only frontline and specialist batsman left," he said.

Inzamam has not only played excellently, he has taken Shoaib Malik under his wing and has carried him along nicely. Shoaib, whose selection ahead of Saqlain Mushtaq as a specialist spinner sparked a controversy, was showing a lot of patience, guts and skills with the wood.

The youngster has been occupying the crease for little over two hours and has evaded 151 deliveries while scoring just 19. But his job to prove a better Test batsman than Saqlain is not even half over. A full day remains ahead and he needs to stay there for as much time possible.

There were three stoppages in the day's play. The early start was delayed by two minutes but the play was halted after only 29 balls. The game resumed 35 minutes after lunch and stopped again after 35 minutes.

The proceedings finally got going at 4.50pm. Pakistan safely negotiated the 18 overs and in the meantime reached the eventual score after resuming at 218 for five.

In Rashid Latif, Pakistan has a batsman on whom they can still trust. Rashid, since his comeback last year, has proved that he is not a rabbit with the bat when he hammered a magnificent 150 and 47 against West Indies. Prior to that, he scored 94 against Bangladesh.

An intriguing last day's play is in store and if Pakistan manage to hold the Sri Lankans, that would be the most satisfying result for them after being outplayed in every facet of the game by a more professional and committed performance by the tourists.