May 2, 2002

Inzamam, Imran put Pakistan in command

Inzamam-ul-Haq and Imran Nazir punished the mediocre New Zealand bowling with scintillating centuries as Pakistan amassed 355 for four on the opening day of the first cricket Test Wednesday at Gaddafi Stadium.

Pakistan would have finished in healthier position had Yousuf Youhana's reckless shot on the penultimate ball of the day not led to his dismissal.

Youhana was caught at second slip by Stephen Fleming off Chris Martin who recovered to finish with one for 64 after going for 25 from his first five overs. But if New Zealand would like to forget the day when temperature reached 39 degrees Celsius, Inzamam, Imran and West Indian Steve Bucknor would cherish and remember every moment of the proceedings.

Inzamam ruthlessly treated the New Zealanders by slamming 25 boundaries and a six in his undefeated 159 off 254 balls that consumed little over five hours.

It was Inzamam's 16th century in 81 Tests and fourth on home turf. But more importantly, it elevated him to second in the all-time Pakistan century-makers list. He is now eight behind Javed Miandad's 24 and one ahead of Salim Malik.

Imran, who was preferred over Shoaib Malik, justified his selection by hitting a strokeful 127 in his comeback Test. The 20-year-old, whose other century - 131 - was against the West Indies at Bridgetown in 2000, was playing his first Test in 17 months. His last of the previous five appearances was against England at Karachi where Pakistan lost by six wickets.

Imran hammered 18 boundaries and three sixes in his 203-ball knock that lasted 291 minutes. And it needed a magnificent catch by Mark Richardson to end an entertaining innings. Richardson ran almost 20 yards to his right at mid-on and held a diving one-handed catch off part-timer Craig McMillan.

For Bucknor, when he took the field, he equalled Englishman Dickie Bird's record of 66 Tests. The former soccer referee is all set to break the record at Karachi where the second Test begins next Wednesday.

If Imran and Inzamam made full use of the placid track and against mediocre New Zealand attack, Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan and Yousuf Youhana failed to grab the chance of getting big scores before a disappointing crowd. In fact, the spectators were outnumbered by a dozen odd policemen when Daryl Tuffey bowled the first ball.

Afridi received an excellent first delivery from Tuffey which he edged to debutant wicket-keeper Robbie Hart. And Younis, who looked in fine touch by hitting all his six boundaries against Martin, got a little deflection off Daniel Vettori and Fleming did not mistake at first slip.

Nevertheless, the broad smiles never appeared on the faces of the New Zealanders as from then onwards it was just hard work for them. Imran and Inzamam sent them on leather chase with a brilliant display of batsmanship.

The Pakistanis scored 125 for two in the first session, added another 84 in the second before putting on 141 in the final session that the visitors appeared to have run out of ideas.

The New Zealand bowlers also obliged the Pakistani batsmen when they erred in line and length and were duly punished. But irrespective of the visitors' problems, credit cannot be taken away from Imran and Inzamam who for the major part of their innings picked the right balls to hit.

Both Imran and Inzamam were fortunate to get away with a few close shaves. Imran twice edged in the vacant slips and his successive boundaries, that brought his half century, also went uppish but away from the fielders.

Inzamam, on the other hand, played several loose strokes but it was his day. He had a narrow escape when Richardson failed to hold on a sharp chance at backward point off Vettori with his score 111.

After Imran's dismissal, Inzamam changed gears and virtually toyed with the bowlers by hammering them at will. His first 50 runs came of offf 108 balls, the second 50 from 83 deliveries and the last fifty from 51 balls.

The big man preserved his energy when he concentrated on boundaries as evident from the fact that 106 of his runs came off boundaries.

Imran dominated the first two sessions of play while Inzamam played second fiddle. Imran reached his half century from 76 balls with nine fours and a six and completed a memorable hundred by hitting Chris Harris over his second for a six, two deliveries prior to the tea interval.