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December 12, 2007
After 20 days of cricket including five ODIs and three Tests, several injuries and rumours about captaincy, Pakistan leave India with little to show in terms of hard results. They won two ODIs, one of which was a dead rubber, and were playing catch-up in each of the three Tests. Shoaib Malik, their captain who missed the last two Tests because of injury, thought otherwise however, suggesting their performance wasn't as bleak as the 3-2 and 1-0 scoreline in the ODI and Test series suggested.
"We were competitive in all the three Tests," he said after the final day's play. "If you look at it, we played badly in the morning session on the third day of the Delhi Test, and that cost us the series. There were a lot of positives to emerge. India scored more than 600 runs not once but twice in a row and we replied with 500."
A significant reason behind Pakistan's competitiveness in the Tests was the form of Misbah-ul-Haq. He scored 464 runs in six innings and his centuries in Kolkata and Bangalore played crucial roles in Pakistan drawing the last two Tests. Malik had high praise for the batsman who stepped in to fill the gap left by Inzamam-ul-Haq.
"He was tremendous throughout the series," said Malik. "He and [Kamran] Akmal played a big role in us saving the Kolkata Test. Here also, the same pair put on a very good and important stand, and that augurs well for us."
Akmal, after a poor one-day series, struck form in the Tests. His century in Kolkata complemented Misbah's and he scored an aggressive fifty in Bangalore to help Pakistan past the follow-on mark. However, his keeping in the ODIs was poor and didn't get much better in the Tests.
But Pakistan's biggest disappointment was perhaps the form of Danish Kaneria. He picked up 19 wickets in three Tests on his last visit to India and played a vital role in the series-levelling win in Bangalore. This time he hardly troubled the batsmen and, although he took 12 wickets, they cost him 52 apiece. Malik defended Kaneria saying that "like a batsman has a bad patch, a bowler too sometimes can go through it."
The other main concern would be over the fitness of key players, an issue that hampered them through the Test series. Malik acknowledged that "problems with physical fitness" significantly affected their competitiveness and stressed that it was an area they needed to improve upon.
Mohammad Asif was ruled out of the series before it even began and their bowling attack was further weakened by Umar Gul's back injury and the illnesses that affected Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami before the second Test in Kolkata. Shoaib's back injury during the Bangalore Test left them with a three-man bowling attack in the first innings, allowing India to pile up an impregnable first-innings total.
Pakistan now have a long gap before their next Test series in March. It provides an ideal window to get their first-choice fast bowlers match-fit and as it is Australia who are visiting, how Pakistan fare in the series could well hinge on the fast bowlers.
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Bide your time, put your body behind each delivery, and play with the batsman's mind