Pakistan v India, 1st Test, Multan, 1st day

Listless and helpless

If Pakistan could do nothing about the two elements of nature - the pitch and the stifling heat - there was little they could do about the third element - Virender Sehwag
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Virender Sehwag was an element Pakistan just could not counter © AFP

If Pakistan could do nothing about the two elements of nature - the pitch and the stifling heat - there was little they could do either about the third element - Virender Sehwag. On a pitch as useful to fast bowlers as a lit match in a petrol station, Pakistan not only felt the full brunt of the blazing sun, but also Sehwag's blazing bat.

What little they could have done to Sehwag in this mood, they didn't take advantage of. When Sehwag tried to dismiss Saqlain Mushtaq over deep midwicket for a second six in three overs off Saqlain, Mohammad Sami, positioned precisely for the shot, put down a chance that, at this level, should have been taken. Sehwag was then on 68 and Saqlain, until then, had bowled an intriguing spell, extracting generous turn from the pitch.

Not only did that drop cost Pakistan more than 150 runs, and the possibility of even more tomorrow, it also potentially diluted the impact of the one man who could have made a difference. Saqlain was drafted in not only for his experience but also for his successful track record against the Indians. Sehwag's subsequent assault, coupled with the dropped chance, visibly eroded Saqlain's confidence, reducing him to bowling with a 3-6 leg-side field, and a long-on for Sehwag. Although he occasionally extracted generous turn, boundaries still flowed from Sehwag's bat. And when, in the second over after lunch, Saqlain dropped Sehwag again - this time at mid-on off Shoaib Akhtar - Inzamam and Pakistan must have known that this was not to be their day.

From then on, the Pakistani attack toiled away listlessly and, in truth, there was little more that could have been done. Inzamam could have placed more attacking, or containing, fields. Another spinner, Danish Kaneria, might have provided more variety, but that would have left the team with only two fast bowlers, still an unthinkable policy in the home camp.

The day in the field also revealed, in the starkest manner possible, that Abdul Razzaq's position in the team should be on the basis of what he does with the bat. Eleven gentle and ineffective overs at nearly four an over were little more than a profitable net session for batsmen of this quality, and too small a contribution to provide effective relief to the strike bowlers.

Mohammad Sami, who dismissed Rahul Dravid as Pakistan posted an all-too-brief comeback in the post-lunch session, and Shoaib bowled well in patches, but rarely troubled the batsmen. Shoaib's bouncer-happy sparring session with Sehwag close to tea may have been quick and entertaining, but ultimately futile. Shabbir Ahmed, under the eagle eye of David Shepherd, failed to find a rhythm, struggling with his follow-through, before finally being warned for running on the danger area. If indeed he did create some rough for Saqlain to exploit, someone forgot to tell Sehwag about it. As the runs piled on and the day wore on, the only hope for Pakistan lay in extracting reverse swing out of an old and battered ball, but the intensely dry conditions put paid even to that.

On pitches as flat as this, and against batsmen as well-versed in the art of taking advantage of them, redemption could only have been found in an inspirational spell of bowling and imaginative captaincy. Neither was easily forthcoming today. Tomorrow may well be another day, but with Tendulkar quietly sneaking up to 60 by the close, Pakistan will have to reckon with yet another element.

Osman Samiuddin is a freelance journalist based in Karachi.