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The Wisden Verdict by Amit Varma
March 30, 2004
"Winning is not everything, but wanting to win is." - Vince Lombardi
The flat, lifeless, slow pitch at Multan always meant that it would be difficult for either side to force a result. Batsmen were always going to dominate, in conditions that offered no assistance to the bowlers, and it was on the cards that the team batting first would tot up a 600-plus score and declare towards the end of the second day. But are great teams slave to the conditions offered to them? Australia, on this surface, would have played with passion and aggression and gone for a win - as their 3-0 result in Sri Lanka showed, they consider nothing beyond them, and little is.
Both India and Pakistan, packed with talent, aspire to those levels of greatness. But India have shown far more of the intensity required to win the game. Contrast the manner in which Pakistan bowled at India on the first day with the way India performed today. Pakistan had been, as my colleague, Osman Samiuddin, summed up, "listless and helpless". Their bowlers were indisciplined, their fielding was lacklustre, and the captaincy was lazy. On the second morning, their fast bowlers bounced back with some hostile bowling, but their fielders let them down - the two catches that went down in one Shabbir Ahmed over just before lunch being a classic example. Most of the Pakistani fielders ambled around as if they had given up hope of taking wickets, and were surprised that any chances actually came their way.
There was no such lethargy from the Indians. They were alert and energetic on the field, diving around enthusiastically, clapping each other on. The bowling was especially disciplined, with Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan and Lakshmipathy Balaji all keeping it tight, not giving the batsmen any easy runs. They focussed not on the obstacles on the way to their destination, but on the process. They had the mental toughness to keep pegging away, despite the odds - the batsman-friendly pitch, the conditions - being stacked against them.
It worked for them. India earned their wickets today, relentlessly sticking to their task and attacking the batsmen, not allowing them to get the runs away, and constantly testing them. They did this in different ways. Irfan Pathan got a beautiful shape on the ball, landing the ball on middle or off, and straightening into the right-hander, or leaving the left-hander. He picked up Taufeeq Umar by drying up the runs, and then inducing an edge to first slip; later, he got Yasir Hameed to hold his bat out to a ball that reverse-swung and moved the other way, taking an edge through to Parthiv Patel.
Anil Kumble tested the batsmen with slight variations of pace and flight, Balaji got good away-movement, Sachin Tendulkar turned the ball appreciably in his brief spells, but what all these men did right, most of all, is that they bowled with great discipline. There were few loose deliveries, and for Pakistan to get off to a Sehwag-like start, they would have had to take risks, something that Sehwag did not have to do during his 309. India's discipline and mental strength is the difference between the two sides in this Test; does that have something to do with the team's work ethic off the field*, perhaps?
Looks like a mountain, scores like a river
It is rare for a current player to have a stand in a ground named after him, but Multan has no heroes more worthy of this honour than Inzamam-ul-Haq, so there he was, adding 160 polished runs with Hameed in the backdrop of the Inzamam-ul-Haq Stand (which could also be interpreted as an instruction to him during quick singles, perhaps?).
Inzamam's bulk seems to imply the solidity that one associates with him, but, of course, how big you are has nothing to do with how well you keep the ball out - bats, after all, are more or less the same size for all batsmen. Inzamam's technique is sturdier than most, and it is a pleasure to watch him bat. He is remarkably still at the crease, spots the length early as the ball leaves the bowler's hand, gets into position with a simple fluid movement, and is perfectly balanced at the split-second before his bat begins its downward arc, coming down on the ball, most often, not with the bludgeoning force one sees in highlights packages, but with smooth precision. He uses the bowler's pace to guide the ball into the gaps, and often ambles for runs instead of sprinting madly. Like so many great players, he often reaches 50 or 100 before one realises it - his opponents may not notice him scoring his runs, but they certainly feel the weight of them.
There are no unnecessary flourishes in Inzamam's play. One of the leitmotifs of his batting is the conservation of energy. From the moment the bowler begins his run-up to the moment bat hits ball, there is acute concentration, but the rest of the time, he seems almost somnolent. This shows in his running between wickets as well, as he clearly sees no point in running the first one hard when only one run seems possible. This is of a piece with the rhythm of his batting, though he has shown more urgency between the wickets in recent months, clearly adapting himself to the modern game. Regardless of that minor matter, though, he remains one of the modern masters - as he showed in his unhurried, untroubled innings today. He may look like a mountain, but he scores like a river.
Hameed's 91 was a superb demonstration of his enormous talent, though the manner of his dismissal is an indication of a failing he must remove from his game. By the look of it, Hameed is a perfect No. 3 batsman: he has a textbook technique, both in attack and defence. But correctness is not just a way of playing the cricket ball, a synchronicity of body parts as they get into the best possible position for every delivery, but a state of mind. The best technique in the world will get you nowhere if you lose patience, and if your shot selection is flawed.
Hameed played and missed outside the off stump quite often today, and was out fishing his bat out without getting to the pitch of the ball, and 50 balls well played is no good if you play five balls badly - one of them will get you out. The mental aspect of batting is the most noticable difference between the two No. 3 batsmen playing this Test - as is experience, of course. Hameed will do well to learn from the way Rahul Dravid plays his cricket, and will serve Pakistan well if he can emulate even a fraction of that.
Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.
*Geoff Marsh, speaking to Rediff.com a couple of years ago, said an interesting thing: "Mental toughness," he said, "is not about guts or glory on the field, it is about what you manage to do when you are off the field. Suppose one morning you wake up and don't feel like going for practice and yet you push yourself to get up and go, that is mental toughness, that is the will to fight your inner weaknesses. When you do what you don't feel like doing, that is when you get tough in the mind, and that is the kind of toughness you need."
The Indian team has a coach who believes in a modern work ethic and a scientific way of coaching, and is not averse to taking the aid of a psychologist - and the results have shown in the last two years. Pakistan is coached by a former great player who, for all his astuteness, is firmly in the old mould. Could that, perhaps, be the difference between the two sides? (Back to article)
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