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Anand Vasu in Kolkata
December 1, 2007
Shoaib Akhtar's performance so far in this Test and the decision to play him when he was clearly unfit was the subject of questions at the press conference at the end of the second day's play but Sourav Ganguly and Geoff Lawson, the Pakistan coach, defended - in different ways - both the bowler and the team management.
When a reporter put it to Lawson that Shoaib was bowling at about 70 mph, Lawson reacted sharply. "That's his slower ball. Excuse me, do you watch the game? He bowled at 130 kph. The guy is ill. We had a tough choice to make yesterday with the replacement [Yasir Arafat] not at the ground yet and we had to make that decision in five minutes. We decided to go with Shoaib and he was keen to play. We got 24 overs out of him," Lawson said.
"Of course we'd have liked him fully fit. But how do you think he'd have gone [fully fit] on that batting pitch anyway? He might have got a couple of wickets. We haven't got hindsight. To suggest that he's bowling only 100-110 kph, you're not watching the game. When we have a choice of whether to play Shoaib or someone who is just getting off a plane, it's a tricky decision to make"
Ganguly too defended Shoaib's performance. "He was unwell yesterday but I thought today he bowled quick. You have to give it to him. He's been in hospital for two days and wasn't very well but he stood up for the country and turned out to play. He could have easily said 'I'm not playing' but that would have made the attack even weaker. He's Pakistan's best bowler."
Ganguly, understandably, was elated at having scored his first Test century at Eden Gardens. "It feels nice to get a hundred anywhere, but at Eden Gardens it feels a bit different because I've played all my life in this ground," he said. "And to have ended without a Test hundred here would have been disappointing."
He also said that he did not adopt any different approach in this case. "I just wanted to bat, play on the merit of the ball. I knew it was a fast outfield and that I would get value for my shots," said Ganguly. "The important thing was to bat long and not throw it away. What also helped was the taking of the second new ball when I came in to bat yesterday. The SG ball gets soft and then it doesn't travel too far off the bat. But with the new ball I got good value for shots."
When we have a choice of whether to play Shoaib [Akhtar] or someone who is just getting off a plane, it's a tricky decision to make
Ganguly and Lawson, however, had diametrically opposite views when it came to how they saw the game unfolding from here on. "The first two days were the best batting conditions. It was a good toss to win. The surface will be good for batting tomorrow also. But probably after tea tomorrow and on the last two days it will turn a lot more than it's doing now," said Ganguly. "On sub-continental pitches the game can change very quickly on the fourth and fifth day. The pitch is already very dry and there are footmarks. It's going to be a result pitch."
"The pitch is still playing well. We've got some good batting to come," said Lawson when asked about his team's chances of saving this game. "If we bat through to stumps tomorrow and a bit the day after then we would have saved the follow-on."
Lawson was also fierce in defence of his bowlers. "We bowled pretty well at times on a pitch that was a batting paradise. Danish Kaneria was outstanding. He didn't bowl too many bad balls, didn't have a lot of luck, but he bowled really well. We though he had Ganguly early on. Mohammad Sami kept going. He didn't get wickets but he still bowled very well. We look at it as a learning process. To suggest it's the worst bowling performance is a bit wide of the mark."
The one thing that won't go down too well with locals, though, was Lawson's reaction to Ganguly's maiden hundred at his home ground. Instead of patting it away with a suitably vague answer, which is what cricketers and coaches do at press conferences, Lawson reiterated, "We thought we had him in single digits. And then a couple of times after. It's his highest score at Eden Gardens, so well played."
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