Pakistan v India, 3rd Test, Rawalpindi, 1st day April 13, 2004

Making your own luck



Ashish Nehra made his presence felt in his first Test of the series © AFP

Perhaps it is only fitting, keeping in mind that Islamabad is such a deep, lush green, that its twin city, Rawalpindi, would produce the sort of greentop that is increasingly rare in Pakistan. But as in Lahore and Multan, pre-match focus on the pitch can be misleading, especially as it diverts attention from the essentials that really make a difference. The grass on the pitch might have helped the Indian bowlers, but not, arguably, as much as they helped themselves. And given that Pakistan were batting, they too inevitably offered some assistance of their own.

At various crucial junctures throughout the day all three Indian seamers put on a quality exhibition of swing and seam bowling. Locating the right line, and importantly, length, India benefited from their own discipline as much as from the pitch. Ashish Nehra, drafted in for the disappointing Ajit Agarkar, dislodged the two centurymakers of Lahore in a 14-over spell either side of lunch that was as penetrative as it was lengthy. Imran Farhat was the victim of an excellent delivery and the second wicket - that of Inzamam-ul-Haq - was the culmination of a tight and incisive spell. After having an lbw appeal turned down for a ball that straightened (and incidentally would have missed off and leg, but not middle), Nehra's next delivery pitched on the same spot but held its line as Inzamam edged behind to Parthiv Patel.

Irfan Pathan, meanwhile, came back strongly to support Nehra after a flat opening spell. If his own working-over at Lahore by Shoaib Akhtar was ruthless, then his taunting, teasing and eventual dismissal of Yousuf Youhana, for the fifth time on this tour, was equally cold-blooded. Time and again he took advantage of Youhana's tendency to fall over early in his innings, inducing appeal after appeal before finally getting him to play on.

The third member of this triumvirate, the increasingly impressive - and popular - Lakshmipathy Balaji, ripped out the heart of what had proved such a resistant and pivotal lower-middle order at Lahore. Extracting late, extravagant outswing with a 40-over-old ball and pitching it full, Balaji first trapped the scratchy Asim Kamal in front. Five overs later, Balaji evoked memories of James Anderson's spell for England against Pakistan at the 2003 World Cup: Kamran Akmal was caught low at second slip by VVS Laxman off a late outswinger, and then Shoaib was bowled second ball by an outswinging yorker that most top-order batsmen would have found unplayable. Inzamam and Youhana, Anderson's victims that evening in identical fashion, would have shuddered.

As well as India bowled for most of the day, Yasir Hameed (briefly and fitfully) and Mohammad Sami showed what could be done with the bat. Hameed's dismissal, though, was indicative of why he infuriates and delights in equal measure: well set after a couple of stunning fours, he chased a wide ball from Pathan yet again, only to be gobbled up in the slips by Laxman. Sami engineered a worthwhile resistance from the tail, not only helping add a further 100 runs for the last four wickets, but confirming the notion that somewhere within his wiry frame lurks a decent batsman. It might not even have stretched as far had Patel - uncertain and nervous all day - not dropped a skyed sitter and the Indian bowling lost its intensity.

A riveting 15-over spell at the end of the day suggested that Pakistan may have learnt something from the Indian attack's performance earlier in the day. A seemingly rejuvenated Shoaib, and a resurgent Pakistan fielding effort, could yet transform 224 into a competitive total. But for that to happen, Pakistan will have to follow the example of the Indian attack, instead of simply expecting the pitch to hand them the wickets on a platter.