March 15, 2000

Inzamam hits 138 as Pakistan take control

Karachi, March 14: Master batsman Inzamam-ul-Haq returned to his majestic best when he smashed a commanding century - the ninth of his career, third against Sri Lanka and first at the National Stadium - which brightened Pakistan hopes of ending a five-Test win drought.

Inzamam, promoted as vice-captain 24 hours earlier, belted a superlative 138 as Pakistan put a stranglehold over Sri Lanka when they finished the third day's play in the third and final cricket Test at 375 for seven for an overall lead of 404. The home team resumed their second innings on Tuesday at 88 for three.

Pakistan have never lost a Test here in 33 matches. As things stand at present, the home team looks well set to notch up its 17th victory here which would give them a much-needed consolation and morale-boosting win after defeats in the three one-dayers and two Tests.

The highest Sri Lanka ever scored in the fourth innings to win a Test was 326 which they achieved against Zimbabwe at Colombo in 1997-98. The record fourth innings score to win a Test is 406 by India who beat the West Indies at Port-of-Spain in 1975-76.

Pakistan, in the last five months, have lost five Tests, nine out of the 12 one-day internationals.

Inzamam was not the only one to celebrate his appointment. Skipper Moin Khan, who was named on Monday to lead Pakistan on the forthcoming tours, hit his 14th career half century on way to an unbeaten 51 at stumps. With him at the crease was Waqar Younis who continued to show his newfound batting prowess by reaching 18 with a four and a six. Moin, who struck six boundaries in his 74-ball knock, has put on 55 runs for the unfinished eighth wicket partnership with Waqar.

Also among the runs was Younis Khan who proved that he was find of the series by hammering an attractive 61. The 22-year-old from Mardan, who scored a century on debut, spiced his 104-ball innings with eight sweetly timed boundaries and a six off Sanath Jayasuriya. But the day belonged to 30-year-old Inzamam-ul-Haq, country's most experienced, seasoned and prolific run-getter. His strokes were a delight to watch but sadly there were only a couple of thousand spectators to see one of the finest innings ever played at the National Stadium and surely the best knock of the series.

Each of his stroke was full of authority and confidence as he middled the ball from the onset. The most enterprising aspect of his marvelous innings was his temperament and ability to play straight. The other encouraging part of his batting was that he played most of the shots off the front-foot. Inzamam has a reputation of playing from the crease or on the back-foot which has resulted in many of his dismissal through LBWS.

Muttiah Muralitharan, who has completely mesmerized the Pakistanis in this series, was reduced to an ordinary bowler when Inzamam either killed the spin too early or countered it by dancing down the pitch and playing a forceful shot.

Inzamam whipped exquisite cuts, blistering straight drives and powerful pulls to lace his magnificent innings with 17 boundaries and a six off Muralitharan. He batted for 335 minutes during which he received 243 deliveries.

Inzamam had more to cheer when he joined the elite 4,000-club when he reached 66. He became the fifth Pakistan batsman to reach the milestone in 61st Test. The others are Javed Miandad (8,832), Salim Malik (5,768), Zaheer Abbas (5,062) and Mudassar Nazar (4,114).

The burly right-hander reached his second century in a home Test in 243 minutes of 180 deliveries with the help of 13 fours and one six. His other three-figure innings in Pakistan was 177 against the West Indies at Rawalpindi two seasons ago.

Inzamam, who had a couple of very close shouts for leg before, benefited from a dropped catch when Tillekeratne Dilshan spilled a difficult low catch in the second slip off Chaminda Vaas. He finally was out when Pramodya Wickremasinghe took a regulation catch at mid-off off Muralitharan.

Muralitharan, by virtue of taking the prized scalp of the centurion, became the first touring bowler to take 25 wickets in Pakistan. He had 24 wickets when play started on Tuesday.

Inzamam, who has a series aggregate of 355, featured in a record 124-run sixth wicket partnership with Younis Khan against Sri Lanka which bettered the 100-run stand between Zaheer Abbas and Imran Khan at Lahore in 1981-82.

Inzamam and Younis virtually toyed with the Sri Lankan bowlers when they added 113 runs in the second session after Pakistan had gone to lunch at 160 for five. Later, Inzamam and Moin plundered 102 runs in the final session to put Pakistan in a position from where they can only lose if they play their worst.

While the middle-order batsmen finally got big runs, Yousuf Youhana fell cheaply for the second time in the match. His tendency to walk into the stroke is probably troubling him as in the first innings he mistimed a shot off Muralitharan right into the hands of Wickremasinghe at short-mid-wicket and on Tuesday he edge Wickremasinghe to wicket-keeper Romesh Kaluwitharana.

For the first time in the series, the Pakistan batsmen have delivered the goods and the pressure will now be on their bowlers.