Pakistan add ineptitude to injury
Two errors of judgment, one from an inexperienced opening batsman and the other from an experienced umpire, caused minor blips in an Indian batting feast that left the first day's play devoid of any contest. Wasim Jaffer, tall at the crease and elegant in stroke execution, provided much aesthetic pleasure to those who enjoy batting as spectacle, and the Kolkata crowd was happy just cheering India's unchecked advance. However this isn't why Test cricket is regarded as the highest and most pure form of the game.
Beyond a point, there's little joy in watching a set batsman dominating in conditions where the bowlers, fast and slow alike, have been defanged by a pitch so dead that you're more likely to find life on Mars. But it's hardly India's fault that they dominated so, in fact it was to their credit. If anything, it was Pakistan who should be held accountable for taking the life out of this Test.
The decision to play Shoaib Akhtar - flying in the face of common sense and, presumably, medical advice, given that he had been in hospital receiving antibiotics via an intravenous drip since Tuesday evening - was foolhardy rather than brave. Sure, Shoaib looked the only bowler likely to get a wicket in Delhi and might have been desperately keen to play, but if teams were merely decided on who was keenest to play, there would be no need for selectors.
A 20-minute fitness Test on the morning of the Test deemed Shoaib fit to play. From his first spell, though, it was clear that he was nowhere near match fitness. After Anil Kumble chose to bat, denying Pakistan's bowlers a chance to rest a bit more, Shoaib bowled four overs for nine runs, often pushing 140 kmh, before disappearing from the attack. He returned for a limping two-over spell just after lunch where enthusiasm rather than ability kept him going. The third spell, again two overs, was an apology and the final one - a solitary over before stumps - left Shoaib with 9-1-29-0 at the end of the day. In all honesty he should pass a large chunk of his match fees to Sohail Tanvir and Danish Kaneria.
|Having Yasir Hameed bowl offspin was an equally desperate measure, and to see these two [part-timers] operating in tandem on the first day of a Test was unedifying|
With their strike bowler out, Pakistan had only one option, and that was to take a leaf out of Nasser Hussain's book and strangulate the opposition into making a mistake. On a pitch perfect for batting, Younis Khan, the stand-in captain for Shoaib Malik, should have done all he could to control the flow of runs. This would have meant putting men out on the fence to protect the boundaries, a conservative field in the ring, and bowlers operating on one side of the stumps.
Instead, Younis had some strange fields in place, often employing two men in unorthodox and largely pointless midwicket and cover positions, slip and gully, giving Jaffer space on this large ground to pick off his boundaries. As the day progressed, Jaffer went past the milestones - 50, 100, 150 - with mind-numbing certainty and was unbeaten on the verge of his second double-century.
By then, a procession of bowlers had tried their hand at changing Pakistan's luck. It's not clear if Younis was making a point by asking Tanvir to bowl left-arm spin. Abdur Rahman, the specialist practitioner of the art, was left out of the XI in place of two iffy fast bowlers. Having Yasir Hameed bowl offspin was an equally desperate measure, and to see these two operating in tandem on the first day of a Test was unedifying. To compound matters the ground fielding, spoken of as an indicator of team morale, began erratically and ended comically ragged.
The only relief for Pakistan came in the form a Kaneria googly that Sachin Tendulkar failed to pick, being bowled for an unusually brisk 82. Once again the century proved elusive but, with Jaffer on 192 and India having reached 352 for 3 in a day, with VVS Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni still to come, even the most optimistic Pakistani supporter would do well to curb his enthusiasm.
Anand Vasu is an associate editor at Cricinfo