November 24, 2007

A glimmer of hope

The failures of Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan have given the other players an opportunity to take charge and the response has been heartening



Even if Salman Butt is partial to scoring against India, it cannot be denied that he is in supremely elegant touch, the wrists finding gaps more often than not © AFP

In a contrary sort of way, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf failing to make any sort of contribution to this Test is a good thing for Pakistan. Not that any team wants their best batsmen to fail ever, but Pakistan's reliance on both - and Inzamam-ul-Haq - in recent years has been an unhealthy one.

Yesterday's Numbers Game bluntly makes the case: in Test wins, in losses, in draws, in whatever situation, the most runs, the most hundreds, fifties, the highest averages have all come from this trio. Since Inzamam's retirement, the burden on the two Ys, already one of the most prolific partnerships in cricket, has doubled, though to their immense credit they have played as if precisely the opposite has happened.

Whatever now happens in this Test, and it is likely to be a close-run thing, Pakistan can at least look at their batting scorecards and with some relief, point to vital performances from men other than the two Ys.

At the very top, in Salman Butt and Yasir Hameed, they have got an opening pair more right than wrong. For a start, in the selectorial mayhem of the last three years, they are one of the few combinations to actually put together a century stand and they did it in Australia.

The pairing has felt right in this Test; a left-right combination adds extra value in any case. And even if Butt is partial to scoring against India, it cannot be denied that he is in supremely elegant touch, the wrists finding gaps more often than not. He is eager, perhaps, to make up for time out of the team, even more knowing that he has a wonderful opportunity to bed himself firmly in this side.

Hameed, meanwhile, has lost the surety of his early years, as man and batsman. Given the way he has been treated, it should come as no surprise. But there remains value in his crisp drives and clips and an essentially orthodox outlook to the art. That he didn't make the most of two starts should be a source of disappointment to all, particularly himself, but he has brought a pleasant order at the top.

This was only their seventh innings opening together and they scored 71, their second fifty-plus partnership. In wiping out a nagging lead, it was worth a few more and in Pakistan's wasteland of opening pairs, this was gold dust. Of the many that have come and gone, is it too much to hope that these two will be given a fair go?

One Test performance, of course, is nothing to be making grand proclamations from. But from the dark muddle that was the South African series, the merest glimpse of some clear light has emerged here. It may or may not be enough here, but that shouldn't matter

Further down, in Pakistan's batting pelvis, there is light as well. One of the overlooked downsides of such a fabulous middle order was that no replacements were readied: how could you drop any of Younis, Yousuf and Inzamam over the last few years? Further, domestic cricket in Pakistan doesn't ready players with the same thoroughness, even perhaps the same hunger that Australia does, to men such as Michael Hussey and Phil Jaques.

With Shoaib Malik now the first name on the team sheet - at five - one slot still remains. Pakistan have tried a few there, allrounders such as Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq, and specialists such as Hasan Raza, Faisal Iqbal and Asim Kamal. The allrounders have drifted away, and of the specialists only Kamal appeared to have the spot sewn up at any point.

Misbah-ul-Haq is now in possession and if his displays against South Africa were frustrating, with two starkly contrasting innings here he has staked a robust claim for mid-term permanency. His breezy afternoon hand sparkled not just for the shots, but the mood it was played in: the urgency, the awareness that momentum was up for grabs in a dicey situation. If only he can stop finding increasingly convoluted ways to get himself out.

One Test performance, of course, is nothing to be making grand proclamations from. But from the dark muddle that was the South African series, the merest glimpse of some clear light has emerged here. It may or may not be enough here, but that shouldn't matter. For now it is something tangible to grasp hold of and work with.

Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments