India v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Faisalabad, 4th day January 24, 2006

Compounding the circumspection

How much value do you give to runs scored in this Test? Four hundreds have been scored already, four more fifties can be added to that



Kamran Akmal's first shot at the opening slot in Tests was a productive occasion © Getty Images

How much value do you give to runs scored in this Test? Four hundreds have been scored already, and four more fifties can be added to that. Shoaib Akhtar was untroubled in his 47 (all the runs coming in 33 balls after spending 21 deliveries scoreless), Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan both played like top-order batsmen and all three combined spent eight minutes under three hours at the crease. In 90 overs, 314 runs were scored, only six wickets lost but even the 48 boundaries hit felt only customary, as if they were on cue.

Only from Mahendra Singh Dhoni's berserk counter and Irfan Pathan's calmer defiance can some pleasure be taken because when they came in, real pressure was being exerted. The position was leaning towards precarious and Shoaib Akhtar was treating the pitch as it deserved to be: entirely irrelevant. It took Kamran Akmal, the other wicketkeeper, to produce a brief innings this afternoon which merited just a little mention.

Akmal had already, with two nifty stumpings, partially erased images of a diving dropped catch late yesterday. With Shoaib Malik - himself a versatile man trying to become a regular opener - out, Akmal came out to face the first over of a Test innings for the first time. Against the white ball, he had proved last year to be an increasingly energetic and successful opener. But as India had taken the lead, and with it what little momentum is expected in such stalemates, Akmal could be said to have been under a little more pressure than is normal.

If he couldn't have wished for a better first ball to face as an opener in Tests - short-ish, angled across him from Rudra Pratap Singh and swinging away - then he would have wanted a better result at least, as he could only cut it straight to gully. The next ball he tried it again and almost under-edged onto his stumps but then settled to play out a maiden. After it, he left balls he didn't need to play, offered a straight bat to ones he had to and didn't get off the mark till the sixth over. When he did, it was with one of the three strokes that are his most impressive - pulling Rudra Pratap Singh fine to the square leg fence.

The pull was used often - twice to Rudra Pratap Singh in one over behind and in front of square - but one other, a startlingly correct cover drive, also emerged. He timed it well but the next ball he timed even better: an on-drive that hit a stumbling Irfan Pathan at mid-on and never looked like going for four until we realised that none of the fielders bothered running after it.

Anil Kumble, an early wicket in the bag, brought another challenge and for some time Akmal retreated. In Mohali, one run from his maiden Test century, he had played out eight dot balls from Kumble before driving him for four to reach the landmark and he handled him similarly initially as Kumble bowled only dead straight to him, not allowing him to cut square as he does so well. But soon after tea, even that threat passed harmlessly by. When Kumble returned before the close, Akmal reprised Mohali, only this time bringing up his fifty, with another cover-driven four.

In a match where runs have been shamelessly promiscuous, another fifty is hardly significant. Dhoni's innings was special also because he wouldn't have faced anyone as quick as Shoaib ever before; even on this track, it put forth a challenge. Akmal's opening challenge was much lesser. It wasn't against any bowler; but because it was his first time in an unfamiliar role, on another day lacking precisely everything that is so special about Test cricket, it was at least something.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo