Pakistan v India, 1st Test, Multan, 5th day April 1, 2004

Time to start afresh

It is debatable whether or not the dust actually ever settles in Multan, but for Pakistan it must

Inzamam-ul-Haq and Javed Miandad: plenty of work to be done before the next Test © AFP

It is debatable whether or not the dust actually ever settles in Multan, but for Pakistan it must. When Pakistan wake up to the storm that hit them, they will find themselves needing to resolve some familiar issues if they intend to remain in contention in this series.

The early bird
Pakistan must win the opening sessions on each day. When Rahul Dravid emphasised that taking the early initiative was essential, he wasn't just providing a convenient sound bite. Nowhere was this diktat more evident than in Virender Sehwag's first-session assault on the Pakistan bowlers or on the fourth day when Irfan Pathan's first-ball dismissal of Abdul Razzaq sparked off a late-order collapse. Pakistan are notoriously slow starters, but in the past they have had the personnel to bounce back. However, against a batting line-up which makes oceans seem shallow by comparison, and a bowling attack which is highly underrated, forfeiting the initiative means letting go of the match. Pakistan did that in the one-day series, and again at Multan: they need to get out of the blocks early and apply the pressure, rather than withstand it.

Maintaining morale
The nature of Sehwag's assault was such that the wounds were not simply a statistic on the scoreboard. The effect his batting had on the morale of the team was more disturbing, as shoulders and heads began to droop, and the urgency which had so refreshingly defined the team since last year evaporated into the searing heat.

By contrast, and it was a stark one, the Indians were electric - sprinting and buzzing around between overs, motivating each other and looking professional. Wasim Bari, the chief selector, acknowledged this: "It is now imperative that we motivate and encourage the team, and try and bring their morale up." The lead must come from Inzamam-ul-Haq and Javed Miandad, and while encouragement has never been a problem with Miandad, Inzamam's motivational skills, which surfaced only occasionally during the one-day series, will be tested to the limit.

Back to basics
The bowling attracted attention (and some scorn) in the one-dayers, but now the batting and fielding will need examining as well. The bowling, although uneven, was made to look worse by the class of Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. The Pakistanis bowled on both sides and on both halves of the pitch, instead of bowling to a consistent line and length, and building up pressure. Pathan, in particular, and Lakshmipathy Balaji adapted rather than fought with the conditions, and reaped the rewards.

Pakistan's second-innings batting was shockingly thoughtless. The dismissals of Yasir Hameed and Inzamam, in particular, betrayed a dangerous lack of match awareness. To lose 13 wickets in a day, on a pitch that was still, as Anil Kumble pointed out, flat and excellent for batting, spoke of a deficiency in application as much as it did for the Indians' indefatigable efforts. Rameez Raja, speaking to Wisden Cricinfo, was more emphatic: "The Indians showed what could be done on this pitch by sticking to a line and length. The pitch has come in for unnecessary criticism."

Finally, Aakash Chopra's stunning catch at short leg to dismiss Razzaq confirmed that as well as outbatting and outbowling Pakistan, India outfielded them. Pakistan's fielding, which had improved considerably in the last year, provoked an untimely recollection of the days when Pakistan fielders caught only colds. Catches were dropped - some simple, others not, but all crucial - and the ground fielding lacked urgency.

Don't panic
In the past, a defeat to India might have provoked wholesale panic-stricken changes. By common consent, Pakistan's team is the best available, by and large. Bari has ruled out wholesale changes, asserting that "the team is not as bad as they appeared during this match. There were a couple of crucial decisions that also went against us which didn't help." Iqbal Qasim, another selector, agreed: "One loss should not induce that sort of panic, although a couple of changes must be made." Saqlain Mushtaq, disappointing with the ball and irresponsible with the bat, is one who is unlikely to survive this game, given the non-committal answers from the selectors when asked about his performance.

One loss, even to India, should not be accompanied by the shrill sounds of alarm bells surrounding the quality and composition of the team. The team is clearly capable, as was proved against New Zealand and South Africa. What should be of growing and longer-term concern is their inability to apply what they have been working on for some time. Bari conceded that "allround discipline must be improved".

The training camp prior to the series was held precisely to instil this discipline into the team, and the subsequent lack of success hints either at problems of communication, or application by the players. If the problem lies with Miandad's abilities, then the suggestions that the team needs specialist coaches - or at least a fitness trainer - may not be as spurious as was implied by Inzamam's replies at a press conference during the Test.

Osman Samiuddin is a freelance journalist based in Karachi.