India v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Bangalore, 1st day December 8, 2007

Situation calls for a fifth bowler, or four fit ones

With the injury to Shoaib Akhtar, and Pakistan's decision to stick to only four specialist bowlers, meant Pakistan allowed India, as well as the series, out of their grasp on the opening day

Shoaib Akhtar's back injury meant it was not just the bowler, but Pakistan, in a must-win situation, on all fours on the opening day of the Test © AFP

Without a genuine allrounder in your side, playing five bowlers, or at least having a viable fifth bowling option, in a Test is kind of like that special suit - or dress - that you keep locked up for most of the year: you only bring it out for those special occasions when nothing else will do. For Pakistan, everything about Bangalore suggests one of those occasions.

First, a win and nothing else would do to salvage something from this tour; four men struggled to take ten wickets in Kolkata so one more would only have helped take the 20 that wins you Tests. Then, given India's own injury concerns and severely depleted bowling, surely a specialist batsman could have been replaced by a bowling option? They even called up a fast bowler - Iftikhar Anjum - from Pakistan for this Test, yet didn't feel it necessary to use him.

And finally, when the attack Pakistan settled for included one debutant bowling allrounder, one whose bowling average has touched 50 and had yet to take a wicket in the series and a leg-spinner, all led by a bowler who is now, sadly, under a permanent fitness cloud, the situation simply screamed for another option.

Instead, once Shoaib Akhtar broke down and Yasir Arafat, Mohammad Sami and Danish Kaneria tired, Pakistan had Younis Khan, Salman Butt and Yasir Hameed as options. Commendable as it is that they are trying to get Hameed and Butt to gel with one another as an opening pair, bowling them in tandem is perhaps not the brightest way of going about it.

It allowed India to not only recover from 61 for 4, but do so in such explosive fashion that they ended the day in charge. Not only were further wickets hard to come by, but scoring runs and boundaries became impossible to prevent. Had they been more assertive and gone for Anjum or Sohail Tanvir in place of one specialist batsman, one of the two bowling columns would surely have shown better reward.

Apart from building a hospital instead of an academy for their fast bowlers, Pakistan has to address one issue very soon. Nobody any longer doubts Shoaib's skill, fewer people than before doubt his commitment and what he does off the field is mostly his concern; the most vital, in fact the only question, is whether he can remain fully fit and sustain it over a series or tour, because Pakistan simply cannot afford watching him pull up during a Test for much longer.

In his ten-year career he has lasted a full series on only a handful of occasions and in most of them he has, by the final Test, been a diminished force. The issue has lingered through this series and having bit Pakistan hard in Kolkata, it did so harder here because at lunch, they had a genuine chance. He went off, worryingly with a new problem in his back, only 10 overs in the bank. If there is frustration, is it at Shoaib? Or the management, for not drafting in cover?

In his ten-year career he has lasted a full series on only a handful of occasions and in most of them he has, by the final Test, been a diminished force

It put an unnecessary burden on the rest, especially Arafat, who after a fizzing first spell, fell away physically, with alarming haste. Pakistan might be better off looking to build on his batting and turning him in to a handy allrounder, rather than relying on him as a specialist bowler; only now is Abdul Razzaq's careless frittering away of form and fortune coming back to haunt Pakistan, for the balance a genuine allrounder provides is difficult to better.

Of course, neither quality allrounder nor fifth bowling options might have made a difference with Yuvraj Singh in this mood. To call his contribution to the day, this series even, simply a hundred is to call Shane Warne merely a twirler. This was much more, a summit meeting of mind, body, timing, power, placement and attitude, all at a place called the zone. Nothing would stop him, not good balls, not bad balls, not ordinary bowlers and probably not good ones either.

Still, the Test is not fully lost for Pakistan. Rather, from 365 for 5 on the opening day, it is India's to lose. For some hope, Pakistan can look at the Cape Town Test India squandered last year and one in Melbourne four years ago, having been in similarly strong positions after day one. It is a long shot, but it is one nonetheless and if Pakistan do it, it will be a greater escape than the last time they were in Bangalore.

Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Srinivasan on December 9, 2007, 6:10 GMT

    It is about time Geoff Lawson stopped sledging the Indians with his inane comments (for example, the Indian players are less focused on the ongoing Bangalore test and that their minds are on the Australia tour that follows)and focus on helping Pakistan win matches. I agree that Shoaib Akhtar has been a serious liability to the Pakistan team and it is time to give him a courteous sendoff. If Bollywood wants him they can have him.

  • Umair on December 8, 2007, 22:44 GMT

    Because of some foolish decissions Pakistan is suffering in this test match. I'm sorry to say team management, coach, captain and Shoaib Akther are the culprit. Shoaib knows his fitness lavel and he played and the let the country down again. This is not the first time he did it with the country. Playing with three bowlers and one allrounder is not a right way to win the test match. Specially once u have shoaib akther in the side (u never know when he will break down and let the country down too). Except Sami no bowler was looking match fit. Its time to drop Kaneria or atleast one should tell him how to bowl.. Anyway its a long way to go and I hope shoaib will come back in second inning and Pakistan will bat good in this test.

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