May 3, 2002

Inzamam steals thunder with masterly 329

Inzamam-ul-Haq secured a place among the all-time batting greats of cricket when he stroked a masterly triple century on an eventful second day of the first Test against New Zealand at Gaddafi Stadium Thursday.

Inzamam, the Pakistan vice-captain who started the day on 159, went onto blast a magnificent 329 that propelled the home side to a mammoth first innings score of 643 - their highest total against New Zealand, usurping the 616 for five declared at Auckland in 1988-89.

Just when Inzamam was set for further landmarks, he threw away his wicket by holing out to Daryl Tuffey off Brooke Walker on the last but one delivery of the wrist spinner's 15th over after having blasted him for three sixes.

In the final 20 overs of the day, world's fastest bowler Shoaib Akhtar then produced one of the most hostile spells for a long time to snare four wickets in 25 balls with deadly yorkers to leave the beleaguered tourists tottering at 58 for six.

Without any shadow of doubt, Inzamam's great achievement - that is sure to earn him the reputation, respect and standing he so richly deserves - took 81 Tests to silence his critics and forced them to place him in the same bracket as those greats.

The underachieving batsman proved this time that he is the finest batsman this country has produced after Hanif Mohammad, Javed Miandad and Zaheer Abbas.

Inzamam's innings had the same patience as exhibited by Little Master Hanif Mohammad. The Multan-born burly right-hander occupied the crease for nine hours and 39 minutes and scored 206 runs in boundaries with the aid of 38 fours and as many as nine sixes.

Inzamam, 32, had to hobble through the last 139 minutes of his unforgettable knock, during which he scored 108 runs, and was visibly in severe discomfort after being denied a runner by New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming at the start of the afternoon session. The cramps in the legs also affected his foot work.

Had Fleming allowed him a runner or had Inzamam been fully fit, he would have broken Brian Lara's world record of 375. Nevertheless, he ended up eight short of Hanif Mohammad's Pakistan record of 337. But Hanif's innings at Bridgetown in 1957-58 was played under different circumstances when Pakistan were forced to follow-on.

Earlier this year, Fleming had deliberately allowed South Africa to score bonus point in the tri-nation series in Australia that led to the world champions failing to qualify for the finals.

Inzamam left a trail of records behind him. On reaching 169, he became Pakistan's second most successful batsman behind Miandad, who has 8,832 runs from 124 Tests, overhauling Salim Malik's 5,768 runs in 103 Tests.

It was also the second triple by a Pakistani after Hanif and 10th biggest individual score in the history of Test cricket. Interestingly, it was also the second instance that a triple century was scored on Pakistan soil after Australian captain Mark Taylor hit 334 not out at Peshawar in 1998-99.

Credit must also be given to Pakistan's lower middle-order that showed the trademark resilience.

At one stage though, Inzamam's triple century looked like a dream when Pakistan slumped to 399 for six having resumed the day at 355 for four. However, the last five batsmen helped Inzamam add 244 with the big man contributing 148.

Inzamam received excellent support from Saqlain Mushtaq (30) with whom he put on 111 in 104 minutes for the seventh-wicket. For the ninth-wicket with Shoaib Akhtar (37), the 32-year-old batsman added 63 from 97 balls. And for the last wicket with Danish Kaneria (four not out), 31 runs were added.

He sprinted for a couple while defeating Lou Vincent's direct throw from mid-wicket to reach 200. He then dashed to take a cheeky single at covers to reach 300.

New Zealand's agony didn't end here. Needing to negotiate 20 overs for the day, Shoaib Akhtar fell on them like a lightening to leave them on the verge of follow-on.

Shoaib, generating fearsome pace from the slow track, fired deadly yorkers to send the stumps of Matthew Horne, Mark Richardson, Fleming and Chris Harris cartwheeling. He finished the day with figures of four for 11 from seven overs.

New Zealand had hardly recovered from 21 for four when South African umpire Rudi Koertzen declared Craig McMillan caught bat and pad off Saqlain Mushtaq after initially indicating that the ball had rebounded to Shahid Afridi off his pads.

With New Zealand requiring another 386 runs to avoid follow-on, defeat looms large. But Thursday will be long remembered for Inzamam's memorable batting heroics.