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At seven down, with less than 150 on the board, a Pakistan attack of older vintage might have expected, reasonably, to scuttle a previous Indian batting line-up for under 200
April 5, 2004
At seven down, with less than 150 on the board, a Pakistan attack of older vintage might have expected, reasonably, to scuttle a previous Indian batting line-up for under 200. Times, however, have changed. Such is India's batting strength that bowling them out for less than 300 still constitutes a victory of sorts, and for that Pakistan should be justifiably proud. But, just as India's batting has undergone such a publicly admired evolution, Pakistan's pace attack may now be in the midst of a more subtle, yet equally crucial development.
Pakistan's success on the first day at Lahore was down to the type of bowling performance that has been as rare as a spectator in the stands. While Mohammad Sami and Shoaib Akhtar huffed and puffed - extracting pace and bounce but little reward - Umar Gul stuck to the staid virtues of line and length and reaped rich reward. In a team obsessed with pace, Gul bowled a good length and hit the seam, and extracted five wickets in a 12-over spell. And he didn't even bowl that quick.
But his excellent work was partially undone by thoughtless performances from the two bowlers who, prior to the series, had been widely expected to make the difference between the sides. The runs Gul saved - and the advantage he weaved - vanished as Shoaib and Sami sprayed the ball all over the place at express pace. The results were predictably disappointing: 39 overs between the two of them, 186 runs, two maidens, three wickets.
Inzamam-ul-Haq recently wrote in his newspaper column that the hype bubble in which both Sami and Shoaib were floating had finally burst, and he wasn't just lashing out. He was merely stating a simple truth - that the two S's aren't as effective as the two W's of old. What Inzamam also hinted was that pace - contrary to prevalent opinion in Pakistani cricketing circles - need not be everything.
It is unfortunate that Sami's burgeoning inconsistency and ineffectiveness of late has coincided with the increasing excitement revolving around him - and specifically his pace. He may have picked up two wickets but his predilection for the short-pitched ball, particularly against Yuvraj and the tail, betrayed an unthinking approach and a hankering to bowl as fast as possible.
As for Shoaib, after an impressive opening couple of overs, he eventually resorted to mimicking the lifeless Multan pitch. Shortening his run-up in subsequent spells and looking as exhausted as he was ineffective, he kept up the pace both of his bowling and the runs that flowed off it. The lessons of Irfan Pathan at Multan, and Gul here, had clearly been wasted.
Over the last six months, the emergence of Gul and, until doubts crept in over his action, Shabbir Ahmed, have bucked the recent trend of Pakistani fast bowling. This new breed relies less on explosion and more on containment. Sami and Shoaib are still very capable of precipitating the sensational collapse, but maybe we shouldn't expect it to happen as often as it used to.
Gul and Shabbir may not be as exciting or breathtaking to watch as Imran Khan, Wasim Akram or Waqar Younis in their heyday. But they might, with their own brand of line, length and seam movement, become just as effective.
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