November 20, 1999

Saqlain, Waqar find their rhythm to send Aussies reeling

A. Jalil

Hobart, Nov 19: There is a final drop of venom that transforms a good bowler into a great one. Saqlain Mushtaq's bowling has contained that deadly ingredient long enough to put him in that category. His remarkable figures today simply provided further evidence of his stature.

It was the virtuoso bowling and tenacity of Pakistan that came to the fore, halfway through the second day's play. Having taken much flak for their batting and again for their work in the field, they battled hard just when this Test and, indeed, the series was perilously close to slipping away.

Australia were comfortably placed with their opening batsmen setting them off with a flying start of 76 and when that was extended to 191 for the loss of just one wicket, it looked most ominous for Pakistan with their meagre first innings total.

It would appear that a lunch time pep talk spurred them on, not only to some controlled bowling but in the field as well, for they had dropped Michael Slater earlier on 36 when there was a chance of a running catch at back-ward square-leg and again on 68 at point.

He had, nevertheless, batted beautifully and his drives of the back foot were a delight to watch. He had been severe on Waqar Younis in the first session of play when 30 runs came off seven over with the last over going for 12. But not long after lunch Waqar began to give glimpses of his former self when he was the spearhead of the Pakistan attack.

Meanwhile, Slater had progressed to 97 when he was dropped again, this time by Wasim Akram at slip. It was a low but simple enough chance off Saqlain. The Pakistan captain was, however, relieved that without further addition to Slater's score, Saqlain struck his first blow. It was the seventh time the Australian was dismissed in the 90s in Tests.

Thereafter, the combined pace and spin attack of Pakistan proved to be so potent. Waqar trapped Mark Waugh leg before wicket and on the same score of 206 Saqlain got a bat/pad decision against Justin Langer. The batsman had, however, in reaching a half-century, probably ensured his place for the next Test on his home ground in Perth. He was the only batsman in the Australian team who was in need of runs to hold his place.

Pakistan bowlers had now taken control and Waqar struck once again. He produced an absolute beauty which came in late to slip of Ricky Ponting's off-stump. Waqar had found his rhythm and consequently his speed and ball movement.

In his previous over, he beat Steve Waugh with one that moved the other way and the Australian captain survived a close call for leg before wicket.

Australia's innings had taken a battering with Waqar and Saqlain claiming two wickets each but the dramatic end of the innings was kept for the final session of the day. His renowned 'mystery ball' which drifts away from the right-handed batsman, although bowled with the off-spinners action, mesmerized three of his four victims of that session.

To the left-handed Adam Gilchrist, the ball came in as he went forward to drive, looking for an away movement, and was beaten and stumped. Shane Warne fell to the next ball and Saqlain was desperately unlucky not to get a hat trick with the third ball, Damien Fleming surviving an appeal for stumping. He went three balls later. It was an over of high class bowling and Australia had lost three wickets on the same score of 236.

When Australia's innings finally ended, they had lost their nine wickets for 122 in just over twenty overs. It had been and amazing turn around and although it was a great fight back by Pakistan, it was Saqlain Mushtaq's day. His six for 46 were his Test career best but wicket to wicket, he had six for 17 in amazing 56 ball spell that tore the heart out of the Australian innings.

Saqlain had put his team back in the game and, by the end of the day, Pakistan on 61 for 1, had found themselves in a position of strength.