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April 6, 2004
Though Yuvraj Singh's century and his rearguard effort with Irfan Pathan lifted the Indian morale on the opening day, there was a sneaking feeling that the total of 287 was still at least 80 short of a par score on a pitch that had quickly flattened out into an excellent one for batting. Today, Pakistan's batsmen confirmed that hunch, showing just what is possible if discipline and circumspection replace recklessness.
The change of approach was evident right from the moment Pakistan began their first innings last evening: they largely eschewed the risky strokes, didn't mind playing out plenty of dot balls, and went at a niggardly two-and-a-half an over. The huge outcry of criticism after the Multan debacle might have been way over the top, but the way the batsmen went about their task on the second day made it obvious that the loss had hurt. Only 84 came in 29 overs before lunch, but that session typified their new, more disciplined approach, and the hard work put in during that session allowed Pakistan to cash in through the rest of the day.
Leading the way was Inzamam-ul-Haq, so ingloriously run out for a duck at Multan. It was an amazing contrast to his stunning century in the first one-day international at Karachi, but there was one strand which was common through both innings - the singleminded determination, almost to the point of shutting out every other extraneous factor and focussing solely on the next delivery. Unlike in the one-dayer, when Pakistan were scrambling to get seven runs an over, here the need was to construct a long innings and shut India out of the contest. Inzamam performed the task quite superbly.
In terms of scoring rate, Inzamam never moved out of second gear; yet, at no stage did it look as if the Indians could breach his impregnable defence. Even as Yousuf Youhana scratched around, played and missed, and looked likely to get out any time, Inzamam was always assured, playing the ball late, often right under his nose, and allowing the ball to swing, seam or spin before putting his bat to it. The most telling comment about what the Indians felt were their chances of getting him out came shortly after lunch: Anil Kumble bowled a round-the-wicket, wide-outside-leg line, happy to allow the ball to be padded away, or paddled for a single. Inzamam was then only in his early 30s.
The only bowler who occasionally managed to trouble him was Irfan Pathan, far and away India's most incisive performer today. His indippers were almost always on target, and one of which almost trapped Inzamam in front, but even more admirable was Pathan's willingness to experiment when things weren't going his way: he switched to round the wicket, and immediately beat Inzamam with a brute of a lifter which pitched and straightened, and narrowly beat the edge. Inzamam could only shake his head in approval. Pathan finished the day wicketless, but the consistency and composure he showed on a tough day ensures that his stock has risen even though his wickets tally hasn't.
The Indians will look back on the day as one of lost opportunities. They took just two wickets in 90 overs, but bowled much better than those figures suggest. Especially heartening was the sustained intensity they displayed late in the day with the second new ball: had the rub of the green gone their way, the Test could well have been far more evenly poised.
They will feel, justifiably, that they were let down by the umpiring. Steve Bucknor, continuing the poor form which plagued him when India toured Australia, refused three lbw shouts - two against Yousuf Youhana and one against Inzamam - which Hawk-Eye showed should have gone in the bowlers' favour, but the real shocker came from Simon Taufel, when he failed to notice the edge Youhana got off Kumble. The two batsmen, of course, will only reckon that justice has been done - both were given out to doubtful decisions at Multan.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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