Pakistan v India, 1st ODI, Karachi March 13, 2004

The same old story



Mohammad Kaif's stunning catch to dismiss Shoaib Malik: the turning point, according to Inzamam-ul-Haq © AFP

It wasn't for nothing that Steve Waugh and his Australians used to believe that the battle is often won early on in a match, whether it is the first session of a Test or the first 15 overs of a one-dayer. After the dust settles on a match that will go down as among the very best in recent memory, Pakistan will once again rue the lack of emphasis they placed on the basics of the game, particularly at the start. That Pakistan, sensationally, came so tantalisingly close to pulling off the highest run-chase in one-day history will only heighten the feeling of anguish in their camp.

The hard work Pakistan put in at a two-week training camp, where eliminating no-balls and improving the fielding were high on the agenda, was wasted in the very first over of the day. This set the tone, both for the excitement that was to follow later, and the indiscipline that ultimately cost Pakistan. Two no-balls, two wides, one boundary and a couple of swishes from Virender Sehwag would have been enough, but when Imran Farhat dropped a straightforward chance in the covers off the last ball of the over, the initiative had been gifted to the batting side.

Thereafter, an undermanned Pakistan attack was initially dismantled by Sehwag and then silkily taken apart by Rahul Dravid. Going in with five bowlers against India's batting was always a gamble, but when you consider Abdul Razzaq's drastically reduced utility as a bowler these days, it was a disaster waiting to happen. Inzamam-ul-Haq argued at the press conference afterwards that going in with a sixth bowler at the expense of a batsman would have been equally risky, but the balance of the team, because of an abundance of allrounders, remains a concern.

When Rana Naveed-ul-Hasan went for 24 runs in his first over, the full, alarming implications of a paucity of bowling options became abundantly clear. That he subsequently, in tandem with Shoaib Malik, displayed formidable spirit in picking up three wickets and hauling back a total that threatened to go well above 350 will be of scant consolation in the light of disappointing performances of the spearheads, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami.

In striving for extra pace and bounce from a pitch that wasn't readily providing either, and to openers who both like pace and bounce anyway, Shoaib and Sami both bowled wayward opening spells. By the time they fought back in the last few overs, it was too late. The fielding followed suit: it was rusty at first, and although it gradually improved, it still has some way to go to reach the standards set by India, led by Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif.

But Pakistan's batting - in contrast to what is often expected of it - will give Pakistan cause for optimism. Despite losing the opening rounds again, the batting - led by the increasingly pivotal Inzamam-Youhana axis - was also bolstered in the middle order by the return of Younis Khan, who played as if he had never been away. Picking up ones and twos, interspersed with the odd boundary, he reminded us of the folly of dropping him last year. But his dismissal, yet again when well set, provided an insight into why it might have happened. Inzamam's innings, one full of character, heroism and a calmness under pressure that is often mistaken for laziness, highlighted what he brings to the captaincy, to make up for what critics call his lack of strategic acumen.

Afterwards, an exhausted Inzamam highlighted Shoaib Malik's dismissal to a superb running catch by Kaif as the turning point of the game. At that point Pakistan needed 17 runs off two overs. But actually, if Pakistan hadn't given away so many extras, the match would have been over by then. On the face of it Inzamam was only slightly concerned, admitting only that "no-balls are a problem but we are continuing to work hard on this area". But inwardly, given the emphasis Javed Miandad, Wasim Bari and Inzamam himself have placed on this area, he will be know that it needs to be rectified ... fast.

In Pakistan's previous one-dayer, against New Zealand, they almost chased down another imposing total above 300, but again lost out by a narrow margin. Then, the number of extras and a lack of a sixth bowler made the vital difference. Two months and an intensive training camp later, the lessons learnt have yet to be put into practice.

Osman Samiuddin is a freelance journalist based in Karachi.