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March 16, 2005
If bygone generations of Indian fans were openly enthralled by - and secretly coveted - an unending line of Pakistani pacemen, so too will this generation of Pakistani fans come to appreciate and marvel at the current generation of Indian batsmen and envy them. In each case, the enchantment, the fascination has been a derivative as much of their wondrous skills as a glaring paucity of similar resources.
Who, for instance, in the Pakistani line-up, can match the sheer ballast of Virender Sehwag? Against Pakistan in this series, Sehwag has pillaged runs. Today, with minimum foot movement and fuss, as his is wont, and maximum hand-eye coordination and threat, as is his nature, he cut and drove at will, usually audaciously and imperiously.
Arguably Inzamam-ul-Haq, now at his peak, possesses the mastery over conditions and bowling as Sachin Tendulkar once did. Tendulkar provided a brief glimpse of his skill, passing his 10,000th run and compiling a composed 40th Test fifty. But the one batsman, the glittering jewel in a lavishly studded crown, that Pakistan must crave for the most is Rahul Dravid.
Last year, when Dravid compiled that immense 270 at Rawalpindi, Yasir Hameed, standing at point, dropped a sitter on 71. Hameed confessed later, only half-jokingly but revealingly, that he was taking lessons in watching a master at work. Those two days in Rawalpindi, the sun beat down relentlessly, much like Eden Gardens today. As much as the heat, Dravid can be sapping on opposition bowlers.
Ball after ball he repels with a painstakingly, composed and studious defense, standing up straight and tall for anything short and crouching forward to swat any mischief in the bounce or movement for fuller-length deliveries. And just in case he still gets beaten by either, he brings soft hands into play, killing off any unnecessary edges. On this base, he builds.
His first boundary against Abdul Razzaq was special, leaning into a wide, good-length delivery and driving through just wide of mid-off. To bring up his 19th century late in the afternoon, he saved his best. When Mohammad Sami, beginning an energetic spell, pitched wide, he got down on one knee to steer through the covers. Next ball, to bring up the landmark, he leant down on a ball drifting onto middle and, with a straight bat and a twinkle of the wrists, drove between mid-on and midwicket. Many batsmen, particularly from this part of the world, would have put it squarer, with exaggerated and more supple wrist work, but not Dravid.
When he got something short enough, he recoiled; crouch down, step forward then lean back, move and position the feet wide enough for balance, and uncoil a cut, late or early. For effect, to highlight the extent of his mastery perhaps, he nonchalantly picked up a legspinner from Kaneria outside off-stump over his head for six, a rare result of any Dravid shot.
For much of the day, there was little Pakistan's meagre resources could do but watch the masterclass, hoping maybe to pick up a tip here or there. They were committed in the field and although their bowling currently is unlikely to be anyone's object of envy, you can't fault it for perseverance. Shahid Afridi added an unlikely chapter to the story of his recent redemption, hurrying batsmen, mixing his spin and pace and running onto the pitch twice for added drama. Supported well by Razzaq and, towards the end of the day, by Sami, they made up for an understandably fatigued Danish Kaneria.
But most noticeable, and as a parting thought, consider this. Pakistan's fightback in the final session occurred without Inzamam on the field and Younis Khan as stand-in. You can put it down to coincidence, as something that just happens in cricket, or you can conclude that Pakistan's rewards in the last session were the result of their emancipation from Inzamam's lethargy as a leader. Certainly the verve and visible enthusiasm with which Younis ran around the field, marshalling fielders, setting fields and talking regularly, almost excessively, to his bowlers, contrasted starkly with Inzamam. Was his vibrancy infectious enough for the team to respond in kind and haul back what could have been a desperate situation? Or was it just happenstance that this team, which in any case has developed a will to fight, most memorably and recently in Mohali, did so with Inzamam off the field?
Osman Samiuddin is a freelance writer based in Karachi.
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