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November 26, 2007
Pakistan lost hold of this Test many times over. Until the fourth morning, India kept losing it right back to them. But on that fourth morning, when not one of the five Pakistan batsmen to fall could claim that a fine delivery truly got the better of him, Pakistan lost this Test for good.
Shoaib Malik needs no reminder that losing, and losing to India, does as much for the stock of any Pakistan captain as the imposition of emergency in Pakistan did for the Karachi Stock Exchange. However, from the morose, burdened expressions that rarely left his face over the span of five days, perhaps he needs reminding that even in defeat, Pakistan happened upon some light.
Indeed, compared to the first Test defeat under his captaincy - against South Africa in Karachi - the second Test defeat was almost a victory. Not quite, perhaps, but Pakistan fought harder and looked far more balanced than they did at any point against South Africa. That is some progress at least.
Belatedly, the reliance on spin has been ditched - it is not what has seen Pakistan through all these years - and hopefully, Malik has seen enough here to not fall back on it, unless conditions positively scream out for it. With effectively a second-choice pace attack, Pakistan battled until the very end and nobody will deny that had even one of Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif, or both, been around, the effort might have borne fruit. RP Singh and Sreesanth, India will argue, might have evened things out, but who would've made up for Shoaib Akhtar?
When he reminds everyone precisely what he has been put on this planet for, there can be little argument over the value of Shoaib. It is the greatest pity that sometimes the primary task through which any judgment, any observation should be passed - his bowling - is the least relevant aspect of his life.
And on what little evidence there has been over the last 20 months - since the start of the 2006 ODI series against India - that has been the most improved of his traits. At 32, with a fragile body, he may never have the sustained pace of his youth, though he was still ferociously quick when he wanted to be here. But the intelligence and the control, as it has been since his latest return, were immense.
|At 32, with a fragile body, he may never have the sustained pace of his youth, though he was still ferociously quick when he wanted to be here. But the intelligence and the control, as it has been since his latest return, were immense|
He is also getting fitter. He bowled his longest spell in India's second innings and it was his best, the ball to dismiss Rahul Dravid a reminder that cricket, at its highest level, at its most intense can provide a moment of sporting spectacle as stirring as any. Pakistan will be advised to visit a lumberyard and touch whatever comes their way in the hope that he remains fit.
And while they would clearly prefer Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf to score big in the next Test, it isn't the worst thing in the world that they failed here. For one, it meant someone else had to take responsibility and happily, two men did while a couple of others showed that they were at least inclined to. If this opening pair can be given more time than is generally given to their kind in Pakistan, and Misbah-ul-Haq can stop compiling his own top-ten outlandish dismissals, then Pakistan may even have the contours of a worthy batting order.
Challenges don't come much tougher than going one-down in a three-Test series in India. But Pakistan have recent history to draw upon, from Inzamam-ul-Haq's Bangalore comeback in 2005. They also have the more nominal statistic of not having lost a Test series in India since 1979-80, though there have only been four since then. But more than history, Malik should draw from the fight his side showed for much of this Test. Sometimes, it isn't enough. Sometimes, not always.
Plays of the Day from second ODI between South Africa and Pakistan, in Port Elizabeth
Plays of the Day from the third ODI between India and West Indies, in Kanpur