March 4, 2000

Pakistan to Peshawar Test with a win in mind

Imtiaz Sipra

Even though Sri Lanka are on a "roll" these days, having won the ODI Series 3-0 and the 1st Test at Rawalpindi in a tantalizing finish by two wickets where they were stretched to the limits before winning, Pakistan takes the field at Peshawar with a win in mind, and psychological advantage over Sri Lanka through a win here in 1995-96. But the win in the inaugural Test at Peshawar by an innings and 40 runs notwithstanding, it is the spirit with which they approach this Test that augers well for them. And the spirit got reflected in the lost Test at Rawalpindi where with a low score to defend, they nearly pulled out an improbable win through only three front line bowlers.

And even though a hope could not be translated into a wishful win, Pakistan walked away with their heads high in that two wickets loss, where a catch held, a run-out affected, would have recorded a result to the statistically factual win for Sri Lanka. And even though it was not the tonic a destabilized and disillusioned nation, beset with economic and political problems wanted, yet it was a cheer of sorts; for in this lost cause, the team came together, firing on all cylinders.

Act well your part, therein all your honours lie, goes a universal adage. And it was so during that Rawalpindi Test, where there were heroes aplenty from both teams. Not only that the game was played in the truest spirit, and it was so pleasing to see Waqar Younis not bowling a bouncer to injured Ranatunga. The shaking of hands at the finish and a pat on the back of Ranatunga and Kaluwitharana by the losers was a vivid endorsement of chivalry in moments of defeat. But that is in the record books now, and Pakistan take on Sri Lanka in the 2nd of the three Test series at Peshawar where they were beaten by an innings and 40 runs in the 1st ever Test played at this stadium. Sri Lanka may be on the roll, yet Pakistan are a dangerous side when wounded, and wounded aplenty they are presently. Injuries may pose selectorial problems for Pakistan, yet they reflect a combination of established and promising batsmen and even without Wasim Akram, a bowling that given the required support by the fielders, can rip apart any batting line-up. Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Yousuf Youhana, are experienced enough and with a repertoire of strokes, given a chance can take apart any bowling on their day. Both Saeed Anwar and Inzamam have pleasant memories here; Saeed posting a fluent 50 against Sri Lanka here and then scoring as a good a 65 against West Indies and that 176 against Australia when Mark Taylor declared batting at Don Bradman's 334. Inzamam has been no less consistent at this ground; for apart from the 95 against Sri Lankans here in 1995-96, he scored an unbeaten 92 against West Indies and missed another century through that 97 against the Australians. Both seem to be getting back to form, and will be a handful for the Sri Lankans.

Others like Yousuf Youhana are due a big score while Younis Khan promises to play to his potential yet again. Aamer Sohail may net another chance and has the game to score big. Razzaq is no bunny with the bat and if Moin Khan opts out due injury, debutante Humayun Farhat has strokes and balance in defense and attack to add to the total.

Wasim Akram may and may not play; and it would be a pity; for on this bowler's oriented "strip", he can be dangerous. Remember his 5/52 and 3/47 against the lost Test against Zimbabwe in 1998-99? and that 4/65 against West Indies in 1997-98? But if Shoaib and Akram play, supported by Younis and Razzaq, the Lankans will be mostly at the receiving end.

One concedes the Sri Lankans are no pushovers these days and the recent victories so endorse their being a force in themselves. A batting line up that reflects Jayasuriya, Atapattu, Aravinda de Silva, hard hitting Kaluwitharana, Arnold and Jayawardene certainly has the depth to stall the charge of the most lethal bowlers. In Muralitharan, Vaas, Zoysa, they have bowlers who can contain the charged up batsmen and claim wickets.

All in all, a Test match that promises a result and a contest that will endorse whether Pakistan have truly come into their own as a fighting unit, so reflected at Rawalpindi. Todate only four teams have come from behind to win a Test series; England did it against Australia, in 1988; South Africa prevailed upon New Zealand in South Africa and Pakistan won against Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe. Sri Lanka so recorded this feat against Pakistan, in Pakistan in 1995-96. Could it be that now Pakistan may do it yet again? Peshawar promises a result-oriented strip, one that will favour more the seamers. Besides Wasim, Waqar Younis (4/76 v Zimbabwe), Streak (4/93) and Olonga (4/42), so proved it. Hard, bouncy wickets help a leg-spinner and Mushtaq availed this to post match figures of 10/106 (5/35, 5/71) against West Indies here in 1997.