November 22, 1999

The balance is tilting in Pakistan's favour

A. Jalil

Hobart, Nov 21: The outcome of this Test, which has had innumerable twists and turns may well hinge on the unpredictable Tasmanian weather. Rain has been forecast but if it should stay away Pakistan having a firm grip on the match should wrap it up sometime before mid-afternoon.

That is not to say that even at this stage trailing so far behind and requiring as many as 181 runs for an improbable victory, Australia are not going to contest the issue. They undoubtedly felt the enormity of their task that lay ahead when Pakistan set them such a formidable target of 369 runs, but despite that they have made quite a fist of their response.

For a very considerable period this morning Australia, in their batting, clearly indicated that they were going to push Pakistan all the way. Their innings was well in progress for the loss of just one wicket when suddenly the variation in Pakistan's attack rocked the Australians back on their heels. Azhar Mahmood with his medium pacers had done the trick after the blitz carried out by Shoaib Akhtar, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram had been thwarted

Giving the impression that he was still quite undeterred with the loss of two wickets in successive balls, Steve Waugh, the most pugnacious of batsmen, frustrated Pakistan for near enough an hour and a half along with Justin Langer, while Wasim Akram constantly kept varying Pakistan's attack. It paid off eventually with Saqlain, the hero of Pakistan's bowling in the first innings, accepting a low return catch.

Once again, as it happened earlier in their innings, the fall of a wicket brought another straightaway. This time Akram himself trapped Ricky Ponting right in front of his stumps. The fall of this wicket was not just a blow to Australia, as Ponting was the last of the specialist batsmen but a major disappointment to the crowd as he is the local hero, the only player from Tasmania in the present Australia team

For Ponting it was also a personal crisis. He had been dismissed without scoring for the third consecutive time in Tests. He has collected a pair in this Test following the nought in Brisbane a fortnight ago.

Although Pakistan were back dictating the terms once again with the score on 126 for 5, Australia, with Langer continuing the good work of his first innings kept extending Pakistan. Wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist who is nearing a half-century and Langer who already has reached his second of the match, will have to be separated early in case Pakistan are to lose valuable time owing to the weather. They had lost the opportunity of bowling a couple of overs more today when bad light stopped play early.

Pakistan's bowlers will have to show an urgency when play resumes on the final day. The pitch remains perfect for batting but the bowling options available to Pakistan is the key. Both Wasim and Waqar move the ball in the air and the former, in particular, off the pitch as well, both ways. Shoaib will be a force, he reached almost 96 mph today. Azhar Mahmood proved to be so effective and Saqlain so deceptive both in flight and spin as he showed in the first innings.

As it stands, the balance is considered to be tilting very much in favour of Pakistan. To chase 369 runs is always a tall order for any side. History is a little against Australia for a start. In 120 years of Test cricket,Australia has scored 300-plus runs to win only five times. The last time they reached a similar target to win was in 1978 when they scored 362 for 7 against West Indies, in Guyana, when the Windies were a weakened side because of Kerry Packers World Series.

The highest ever run chase by Australia was back in 1948 in England, by Sir Donald Bradman's team that made 404 for 3. If the weather holds they do not expect more than light showers - Pakistan will win comfortably. There is an abundance of enthusiasm and ability in the team