May 6, 2000

Inzamam holds the fort

Bourda: As they have so repeatedly done throughout their lengthy careers, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh claimed an immediate and seemingly decisive initiative for the West Indies on the opening day of the first Test against Pakistan here yesterday.

They and their toiling colleagues then ran into a formidable and impenetrable brick wall, mounted by Inzamam-ul-Haq, Pakistan's one batsman of proven quality, and the fledgling 20-year-old all-rounder Abdur Razzaq that changed the course of the day, the innings and possibly the match.

The two started their rescue act an hour and 20 minutes into play after the evergreen Ambrose and Walsh had instigated a familiar top-order collapse.

Walsh struck the first blow, Ambrose quickly responded with three, the last two with successive balls.

When captain Moin Khan cut Reon King's first ball fiercely but straight into Jimmy Adams' lap at gully in the 17th over, the tins on Bourda's archaic scoreboard proclaimed Pakistan 39 for five.

Five hours, 50 minutes later, when play was called four overs early after five deliveries with the second new ball because of fading light, it read 221 for the same five.

Inzamam was 117, his tenth Test hundred, his third against the West Indies, and Razzaq 80.

Their sixth-wicket partnership was worth 182, a record for Pakistan against the West Indies, passing the 166 added by Wasir Mohammed and Abdul Kardar at Sabina Park in the first series between the teams 42 years ago.

Committed to batting last by captain Adams' gamble to bowl on winning the toss, a total of over 300 will severely test the West Indies.

On a pitch that, as promised, resembled the bowling heartbreakers of the old days and played like them, the West Indies bowling was never wayward.

Everyone stuck to his task and the discipline was reflected in the rare scarcity of no-balls two from Walsh and one from Adams.

But, lacking the variety of identifiable spin in their all-pace attack, Adams was reduced to defensive measures by mid-afternoon.

Inzamam's 62 Tests are 22 more than the other four in the Pakistan top order put together, 58 more than Razzaq, who is in his fourth.

He required all his experience and class to prevent the West Indies capitalising on their early advantage.

Equally vital was the role of Razzaq, the latest of the young Pakistanis whose temperament and technique allow them to fit so comfortably into the game at the highest level.

Timing with confident certainty, Inzamam found the boundary 17 times in 5-3/4 hours of broad-batted command.

There was hardly a stroke he did not play, as effective off the front foot as back against all six bowlers used.

He presented one unaccepted chance: a flying, finger-tip catch to Sherwin Campbell at second slip off Reon King in the penultimate over to lunch when he was 32. At 62 for five, the justifiable question was why was there no third slip to whom the offering would have been more straightforward.

Razzaq also had one escape, to wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs off Jimmy Adams' speculative left-arm spin when he was 74.

Throughout the preceding One-Day Internationals, he had been ill at ease to the slower stuff and so it was again.

Adams' decision to bowl appeared to have been vindicated as, in spite of a blameless pitch of no pace, his two aging stalwarts despatched Pakistan's inexperienced top order.

Walsh, back after a month-long rest since the series against Zimbabwe, started Pakistan's problems in the sixth over, increasing his recently-acquired Test record 435 wickets by passing Wajatullah Wasti's defensive stroke to hit off-stump.

Ambrose replied three balls later. Conscious of the replacement of a silly mid-off to counter his long forward defensive push, Mohammed Wasim went back to the next ball and diverted it into his stump .

Four overs later, Ambrose, persistently posing problems with his probing length, struck twice with successive balls.

Younis Khan, aiming towards mid-on, missed a drive and was lbw, and Yousaf Youhanna could only get a thick inside-edge onto a sharp off-cutter, Jacobs tumbling to his left to seize the catch.

Captain Moin Khan, no stranger to lost causes, filled the breach at 39 for four and he and Inzamam saw off both Walsh and Ambrose.

King, in his first home Test on home soil, replaced Ambrose and he, and an expectant, if disappointingly small crowd, had the satisfaction of Moin's wicket with his first ball.

From the start indeed, from the One-Day Internationals it was evident Inzamam would be the major stumbling block to the West Indies. By lunch, it was evident Razzaq would be equally difficult to shift.

Razzaq was only unsettled during five overs of genuine pace and hostility by McLean just before tea.

He took three blows to the body, two off successive balls, fell to the ground and needed the on-field attention of the physio.

But he rode the storm and kept Inzamam comfortable company to the end.

Pakistan's final selection did not include Shaoib Akhtar, the much-touted Rawalpindi Express. Because of a groin strain, his cricket in the past six weeks has been limited to a single match in the finals of the One-Day International series on Easter Sunday.

He was not considered match fit and, probably, unsuited to a slow, featureless pitch, and Waqar Younis' experience was preferred.