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How Pakistan fare in the remainder of the series may well depend on how often Abdul Razzaq meets expectations
March 19, 2004
When Abdul Razzaq drove Lakshmipathy Balaji straight down the ground to clinch victory, he fittingly completed a job he himself had begun earlier in the day, in cahoots with the gangling Shabbir Ahmed. Razzaq might have finished the way he normally does, but his innings, a responsibly restrained one, mirrored Shabbir's unusual bowling start. A 14-ball over, peppered with wides and no-balls, was unlike him, but interrupted as it was by a couple of beauties - and one snorter which got rid of Sachin Tendulkar - he finished it, like Razzaq, in style. Defying ongoing problems with no-balls and wides and an indifferent catching display, as a unit, Pakistan put in their best bowling performance of the series thus far.
Shabbir's performance was a confirmation of his growing maturity, and importance, in the national side. His first couple of overs, and his performance in 'Pindi, may have been down to nervousness following the recurring doubts about his action, but what followed after was as incisive and penetrative a spell of fast-medium bowling as has been seen in these parts since a long time ago.
Like Aaqib Javed with Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, Shabbir, every now and then, enters into a pace competition spurred on by the likes of Shoaib and Sami. But when he sacrifices his speed for more control, the results, as at Peshawar, can be devastating. On a type of pitch uncommon in Pakistan, offering extravagant movement and bounce, he extracted both to discomfort the run-happy Indian top-order. After the demise of Tendulkar, Shabbir squared up Virender Sehwag, before tormenting and eventually removing VVS Laxman with a vicious delivery that cut in between bat and pad. His second spell, with an older ball, only emphasised the unique qualities he brings to the bowling.
But if Shabbir reaffirmed his worth to the team, Razzaq's performance with the ball brought back memories of what once was. He may wield an explosive willow, but his effectiveness when hurling leather rather than hitting it has been less spectacular recently. It is easy to forget that Razzaq has a Test hat-trick to his name, as well as a last over against India in Sharjah in 1999 that pulled out a tie from apparently certain defeat. That these feats are mere recollections has, over the last two years, posed the Pakistan team a convoluted riddle.
The fact is that Razzaq's bowling at Peshawar - probing and incisive - was, like his restrained batting later in the day, the exception rather than the rule of late. The pitch offered assistance, and Shabbir had already decapitated India's batting, but Razzaq still managed to pick up the key wickets. The first, Sourav Ganguly's, might have involved a touch of the injudicious, but the second was classic Razzaq: just short of a length and nipping back sharply to trap a bewildered Mohammad Kaif in front of the stumps.
Many of Pakistan's problems, especially in the one-day game, have stemmed from an inability to strike an effective balance in their line-up. Two years ago Razzaq was not only a containing fifth bowler, but also one who picked up wickets in abundance. As a foil for the attacking delights of Shoaib, Wasim, Waqar and Saqlain, he was perfect. Wasim reckons that Razzaq's loss of pace, and inability to bowl those once-lethal reverse-swinging yorkers, has been instrumental in his decline. Others reckon that injuries, and a diet of virtually nonstop cricket for the last couple of years, have contributed.
Whatever the reason, it has meant that Pakistan have struggled to find their best line-up, not adding a specialist bowler or batsman to compensate for his loss, but instead relying on another bits-and-pieces allrounder as security. Often, a Shoaib Malik or Shahid Afridi has filled in with intermittent success, but none has staked a permanent claim to the spot. The results, as at Karachi and against New Zealand in January, tell a story in themselves.
Today, Yasir Hameed may have won the match award for a remarkably composed knock, as others around him lost their heads, but it was Shabbir and Razzaq's efforts with the ball that laid the platform. Shabbir, it is now expected of; Razzaq it is not - not any more, anyway. How Pakistan fare in the remainder of the series could well depend on how often those expectations are met.
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