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December 1, 2006
Finally, some much-needed PR for Karachi and the National Stadium: including this Test, ten of the last eleven matches here have produced results. Whatever talk there always is of the pitch, it manages to be overshadowed eventually by producing a winner. And provided you have the bowlers, it has always been a ground given to reverse swing, an art that always makes for an entertaining spectacle.
Old balls have regularly been made to do remarkable things amidst the concrete surrounds of the National Stadium. India were safe at 108 for two in 1982-83 here, before Imran Khan skittled them for 197 after tea; only one of his eight victims wasn't bowled or leg-before and if Wasim Bari, 'keeper that day, is to be believed, were there corners to be navigated on the pitch, Imran would have done so.
Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis didn't much mind Karachi either, especially during the 1990-91 season. New Zealand would have felt secure at 167 for three on the first day, though by its end and the next morning, the Ws had made sure their total didn't go past 196. West Indies too disintegrated twice suddenly in their Test here later that season, both bowlers sharing 15 of the 20 wickets to fall.
And Karachiites still recall Waqar's five-wicket haul in the ODI against the West Indies from the same tour: chasing 212 from 40 overs, Desmond Haynes and Richie Richardson had a handle on the situation with a 138-run partnership for the second wicket. The return of Waqar, after a spanking in his first spell, brought a swift, spectacular end, 139 for one ending 205 for seven.
There have been more, but why does battered leather take to Karachi so much? For such a little-understood phenomenon, answers are understandably vague. But ex-cricketers, Wasim and Waqar among them, point first to the sea breeze that filters in from the coast roughly15km south. Drier conditions and traditionally rough outfields have always helped, ensuring that reverse swing is always a factor at the ground.
Waqar, now bowling coach, worked especially with Umar Gul and Shahid Nazir before the match, with a scuffed up ball, knowing it would play a part. In hindsight, it was a handy session, for at various junctures through the Test, the old ball told. Not as extravagantly as it has been known to, but enough. On the second day, Gul winked out three top-order batsmen in 11 balls, Brian Lara and Ramnaresh Sarwan castled by deliveries that swung big and late. In essence, if the Test wasn't decided during that period, it was set up.
And for stretches of the last day, it appeared as if only some old ball magic would sweep aside what periodically threatened to be stout resistance, especially as clouds gathered and the light faded. It didn't work out that way entirely thanks to Danish Kaneria - leg-spin being another of the ground's old, enjoyable weaknesses - but Gul fracturing a well-set Sarwan's foot in the morning was a moment as important as it was unfortunate. In tandem with Nazir and Abdul Razzaq, all others were troubled if not dismissed.
It wasn't hurled at the pace it has been known to be delivered at and neither was the parabola it cut as much a banana as it can be. And ultimately the old ball really had only Razzaq's time-honoured tail-end removal to show at the death. But swing it always did and the atmosphere was forever pregnant with its threat. Lara acknowledged later that this particular ability was especially handy. "Gul, Nazir and even Razzaq all swung the ball late. On such dry pitches and in such conditions, it is an added advantage to be able to do it."
Reverse swing, leg-spin, a cool sea breeze, permanently bright weather and now 21 Pakistan wins out of 38: as advertising goes, selling points for venues don't get much better than that.
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