March 13, 2000

Shahid Afridi, Inzamam save Pakistan's blushes

Karachi, March 12: Shahid Afridi, Inzamam-ul-Haq and a gutsy rearguard action saved Pakistan's blushes on the opening day of the third and final cricket Test against Sir Lanka at the National Stadium here on Sunday.

Shahid stroked a punishing 74 with 13 boundaries and a six, Inzamam hit a painstaking 86 with 10 hits to the fence and featured in invaluable partnerships with Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar worth 83 runs to help Pakistan managed a respectable 256 before being dismissed just before stumps.

Sri Lankan openers, skipper Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu, safely negotiated two remaining overs of the day to finish on 10 for no loss.

Pakistan's brittle middle-order once again remained clueless against the magician spinner Muttiah Muralitharan who defied a green top pitch to finish with figures of four for 89. He now has raised his tally of wickets to 22 in the series as compared to 18 he had taken in 1995-96.

Muralitharan's crafty and, at times, teasing bowling capsized Pakistan in the post-lunch session in which the home team lost four batsmen for just 69 runs after Shahid Afridi had powered them to 95 for two at lunch.

Muralitharan's now routine excellent performance puts Pakistan in a quandary as they have picked a four-pace attack. The home team management has apparently been deceived by the outlook of the pitch which though is green but doesn't seem as hard and pacy as was expected. It remains to be seen if the decision to leave out the experienced wrist spinner Mushtaq Ahmad ends up as a crucial blunder.

The selectors seem to havemade the folly of giving a belated wake-up call to Mohammad Naveed Qureshi and playing him in the Test on a less than 24-hour notice. That not only weakened the opening combination, it also gave the youngster little time to regroup and recompose himself for the crunch match.

The selectors' decision to recall Ijaz Ahmad after overlooking him for the earlier matches also backfired when he missed the line of a straight delivery from Chaminda Vaas to be adjudged leg before after an uncomfortable 32-minute stay at the wicket. Ijaz, a nervous starter, had survived very confident caught behind appeal three balls prior to his dismissal.

Shahid was collaring the Sri Lankan bowlers at will before he attempted an over-ambitious sweep outside the off stump to be caught at backward-square-leg. He was extremely severe on Pramodya Wickremasinghe who was belted for eight boundaries in 23 deliveries by the local favourite.

Youhana, having scored 88 in Peshawar, played a reckless shot to throw away his 34-ball hard work while trying to hit Muralitharan over mid-on but ending up hitting right into the throat of Wickremasinghe at short-mid-wicket.

Younis, with a century against his name on debut, looked overcautious and short of strokes before being adjudged leg before. Big scores normally give the batsman confidence but in Younis' case, it appears that the century has put him under more pressure.

However Sri Lanka displayed unsporting behaviour on the field. The bowlers went up every time the ball hit the pads from the end where local umpire Riazuddin was standing. After the appeals were turned down, the bowlers reacted strongly to indicate that they had been denied wickets.

Television replays showed Muralitharan getting annoyed when he pointed his fist at Riazuddin after Wickremasinghe took a well judged catch to dismiss Shahid Afridi.

The situation turned ugly when Inzamam, normally a very cool customer, walked down to umpire Russell Tiffin and complained about wicket-keeper Romesh Kaluwitharana's constant chattering which was disturbing his concentration.

However the ICC match referee Brian Hastings of New Zealand has yet to take notice of the Sri Lankan fielders attitude during the entire series. Excessive appealing and pressurizing the umpire falls in the International Cricket Council (ICC) code of conduct.

Kaluwitharana's desperate attempt to distract Inzamam badly failed as the highly talented batsman, who hasn't justified his real potential, continued to bat with admirable concentration and application. He struck elegant, flawless and exquisite drives on either side of the wickets and didn't hesitate to walk down the track against Muralitharan.

But he fell victim to his trademark poor running between the wickets when he failed to beat an accurate throw from mid-on by Ravindra Pushpakumara after being sent back by Shoaib Akhtar.

Inzamam, who reached his 29th career half century from 120 balls with seven fours, was involved in two priceless partnerships.

For the seventh wicket with Waqar Younis (16), Inzamam added 33 runs after Pakistan had slumped to 164 for six.

Then for the eighth wicket Shoaib Akhtar, Inzamam put on 50 runs from 84 deliveries to lift Pakistan to 247 for seven before he departed. Interestingly, Shoaib made an almost equal contribution in that association by clobbering two sixes and as many fours in his 57-ball 26.

If Inzamam held the lower middle-order, Shahid Afridi took charge from the top by entertaining a modest crowd with his signature pulls and cover-drives. Still labelled as a one-day specialist, Shahid took five wickets and then scored a century.