The Friday column November 25, 2005

A giant called Inzamam, and the new Shoaib

Inzamam-ul-Haq passes Javed Miandad as the highest century-maker for Pakistan, while Shoaib Akhtar is showing just how handy he can be with the willow

Inzamam-ul-Haq: one of Pakistan's finest © Getty Images

Over the last few years, Pakistan's fortunes in Tests have revolved largely around the immense figure of Inzamam-ul-Haq: when he makes a significant score, the team is usually assured at least a draw; when he misses out, there is normally a defeat looming. His performance at Faisalabad - when he became only the fifth Pakistan batsman to score a century in each innings - extricated a team which was losing ground fast to a charged-up England. It was also fitting that his hundred in the second innings made him the highest century-maker for Pakistan, overtaking Javed Miandad's tally of 23.

A look at the stats for the two batsmen reveal more than a few similarities. Miandad took 124 matches to notch up those centuries compared to Inzamam's 104, but compensated for that by ending up with an outstanding average of 52.57, marginally higher than Inzamam's current 51.32. Both were talismanic for the team: only one of Miandad's hundreds happened to be in a game that Pakistan lost, while for Inzamam that figure was two. And the averages of both batsmen in defeats are separated only by a few decimal points.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect about Inzamam's recent performances has been his ability to shut out the pressures of captaincy when he is at the crease; indeed, the added responsibility has brought out the best in him - in just 16 matches as leader, Inzamam has already notched up six centuries, with an outstanding average of 61.56. In 34 matches as captain, Miandad managed only five centuries, though his average was a perfectly acceptable 50.

Inzamam and Miandad: A comparison
Tests Runs Average
Career: Inzamam 104 7955 51.32
Miandad 124 8832 52.57
At home: Inzamam 42 3358 55.96
Miandad 60 4481 61.38
In wins: Inzamam 44 4409 80.16
Miandad 39 2923 59.65
In losses: Inzamam 34 1944 29.01
Miandad 23 1339 29.75
As captain: Inzamam 16 1539 61.56
Miandad 34 2354 50.08
Inzamam v Aus 14 785 31.40
Miandad v WI 16 834 29.78

The only aspect of both careers which isn't quite top class is their record against the best team during their times. Inzamam has only managed an average of 31.40 in 14 Tests against Australia. Add his stats against South Africa, and the numbers still look rather dismal: just one century in 23 matches, and an average of 32. Similarly, Miandad mostly had a tough time against West Indies, averaging less than 30 in 16 matches.

Inzamam is now 104 Tests old, and his stats have been on the rise ever since he started off in 1992. A batsman who averaged just 31 after ten matches has now firmly established himself as a giant among batsmen. The next time he plays Australia and South Africa, he may set right the only blips in his career chart too.

Runs Average 100s
After 10 Tests 466 31.06 1
After 20 Tests 1174 43.48 3
After 30 Tests 2047 45.48 4
After 40 Tests 2656 45.01 5
After 50 Tests 3139 43.59 6
After 60 Tests 3848 43.23 8
After 70 Tests 4807 46.22 12
After 80 Tests 5600 47.05 15
After 90 Tests 6574 49.42 18
After 100 Tests 7453 50.02 21
After 104 Tests 7955 51.32 24

The new Shoaib
Just a few months back, Shoaib Akhtar was struggling to win a place in the Pakistan team - his attitude and commitment levels were being questioned, and neither the captain nor the coach had too many good things to say about him. Which is why his performances in the ongoing series against England are such a remarkable revelation. With the ball, he has been all pace, fire, and intent, but perhaps an even more telling comment on his focus and commitment has been his stodgy displays with the bat.

Before this series, Shoaib's batting was synonymous with a cavalier attitude, and was at best capable of delivering a breezy cameo - the 16-ball 43 against England in the 2003 World Cup might have been an extreme example of that, but generally Shoaib and restraint with the bat didn't go hand in hand. In 56 Test innings before the Faisalabad Test, he had lasted more than 50 balls only four times.

The new-look Shoaib, it seems, cares not just about his bowling but also his batting: with Pakistan losing an early wicket and England pressing for victory on the final day at Faisalabad, Shoaib came out and hung around for 60 deliveries, helping Inzamam-ul-Haq add 47 and edge closer to his 24th Test century. Shoaib made just 14, but his innings was worth far more than that.

Of his top six efforts in terms of balls spent at the crease, two have come in this series, while two more have happened in the last 20 months. There has been much talk about Glenn McGrath improving his batting in the last couple of years; perhaps it's time Shoaib's batting got some attention too.

Longest innings by Shoaib
Against Venue & year Runs Balls
Australia Perth, 2004-05 27 97
India Lahore, 2003-04 19 75
England Faisalabad, 2005-06 14 60
Sri Lanka Karachi, 1999-2000 26 57
New Zealand Lahore, 2002 37 55
England Multan, 2005-06 11 46

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo. For some of the stats he was helped by Arun Gopalakrishnan in the Chennai office.