India v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Delhi, 3rd day December 12, 2005

Innovate to conquer



Despite missing a century, Irfan Pathan played an innings that will be remembered for a very long time © Getty Images
Arthur Koestler, the Hungarian writer and critic, once said: "The principal mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers." By daring to explore uncharted horizons this morning, India went a long way towards ending this match as a contest. The decision to open with Irfan Pathan was inspiration itself, and by stumps, many of the Sri Lankan fielders were going through the motions with the air of men awaiting impending tragedy.

To call Pathan's promotion a gamble though would be a grave insult to his quality as a batsman. After Virender Sehwag's illness had left the team an opener short for this Test, Pathan - with his composure, impeccable technique and range of shots - was a legitimate option, and he more than justified the team management's faith with an innings that will be remembered for a very long time.

Comparisons with Kapil Dev are both odious and inaccurate. While Kapil could eviscerate a bowling attack with his explosive strokeplay - few of the Lord's regulars would have forgotten his 89 from 55 balls in 1982 - his batting always had a touch of the hit-and-miss about it. With his classical strokes and ability to construct an innings, Pathan has much more in common with the great Imran Khan, easily the most technically gifted bat among the four premier allrounders of that era. Whether he ends up being even half the player that Imran was will depend entirely on his dedication, ambition and ability to persevere in more trying times.

The decision to send in Pathan caught Sri Lanka so cold that by the time they warmed up, the game was already disappearing from view. And those who asked what sort of message it would send to the opposition were answered with two towering sixes off Muttiah Muralitharan, who bowled 25 overs without making a dent in the wickets column.

This, though, was teamwork at its best, and not some one-man show. Despite the first innings heroes, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, contributing little, the batsmen who followed batted refreshingly positively without ever crossing the line into foolhardiness. Rahul Dravid combined with Pathan to run the Lankans ragged - 92 runs added in 93 minutes - and but for taking on Mahela Jayawardene's arm, a superb 53 could have been so much more.

There was plenty of application and class from Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh too, as India pressed ahead relentlessly towards a target in excess of 350. A couple of the drives that Ganguly stroked were just sublime, and Yuvraj - despite being ungainly at times against the spinners - did his part by ruthlessly putting away the four-balls.

There were too many of those for Sri Lanka's comfort, with Dilhara Fernando being especially culpable in his opening spell. His attempts to set Pathan up with the short ball failed miserably, and provided him the platform for the near-hundred that followed. And after an incisive opening salvo, Chaminda Vaas too was below par, allowing India to power along at 3.49 an over on a pitch that was far too sluggish to be a strokemaker's dream.

The one blot on the Indian landscape was Gautam Gambhir, who has now put real pressure on himself with a third consecutive failure. If Yuvraj builds on this start tomorrow, the selectors will have a real headache ahead of the Ahmedabad Test. Problems of plenty, though, are always welcome, and those that dared to think beyond the mundane and predictable this morning can allow themselves a big pat on the back.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo