India v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 5th day March 20, 2005

Beaten, but far from disgraced



Asim Kamal's determined effort on the last day typified Pakistan's attitude throughout the series © Getty Images

Of today, the biggest regret can only be the nature of the result. No, we should only be despondent that Pakistan collapsed today, not so much because they lost, but because a wonderfully compulsive game of cricket, one that refused to be tamed until its very end, produced a tame climax.

India are the better team, of that there should be no doubt. They have been throughout this series, but Pakistan have competed gamely when they had no right to and maybe not many gave them a chance to, considering the rawness of their personnel. Consider the monumental proportion of mismatches: a Mohammad Khaleel or Rana Naveed-ul-Hasan against Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid; Anil Kumble against Kamran Akmal, Asim Kamal, Taufeeq Umar or Salman Butt. But for nine days out of ten in this series, Pakistan had somehow kept apace - just. Into the tenth day, there was even a glimmer of hope.

Just before and after lunch, there was evidence of India's superiority. Already four wickets down, thoughts of victory long gone, Asim Kamal took on Harbhajan Singh. The penultimate over before lunch, Harbhajan, shockingly resplendent in white patka, found his bounce. Kamal tried to cut, but under-edged instead. He turned around shaking his head. Next ball, same again, except that he cut it for four.

Harbhajan continued to confound - in the third over after lunch, Kamal prodded a sharply rising ball just past short leg. Next ball, as it turned sharply and reared up - it had promised to do just this on the last day - Kamal cut, and edged, only for Rahul Dravid to continue a mildly worrying dip in form at slip.

Soon after, he played a sharply rising ball as well as he could, off his ribs almost, and watched, relieved as it fell just short of silly mid-off. He also managed to survive a strong lbw appeal next ball. If they were boxing, the referee would have stopped the fight. Kamal, like Pakistan, was bettered, but he refused, also like Pakistan, to be battered so easily.

Maybe for the Pakistanis, spoilt on the riches of Imran, Javed, Wasim and Waqar, drunk on Pakistan's epic battles with West Indies and dominance over India in the 80s, a heavy loss against India is difficult to accept. It shouldn't be, for this Indian side - as the Australia side Pakistan played just before - is among the greatest the country has ever produced. This clearly isn't the case with Pakistan, the remnants of their most successful side left only two years ago.

Rebuilding, as Bob Simpson and Allan Border might tell you, can be a traumatic thing. Australia win regularly, they win ruthlessly, but first they needed to lose and then learn how not to lose. The rearguard in Mohali, the first four days here; maybe Pakistan is just beginning to learn how not to lose at the moment. In time, they will learn to recognise passages of play on which close matches hinge, like their third-day collapse, like Dinesh Karthik's effervescent intervention, like Shahid Afridi's blazing demise against a dying sun, like the first ball this morning, and learn to tilt the balance in their favour.

What we need to do is learn to accept that. We need to recognise that Pakistan contributed fully to what Rahul Dravid said had been a wonderful advertisement for Test cricket. We need to recognise that in that, there is no disgrace.

Osman Samiuddin is a freelance writer based in Karachi.