March 27, 2001

Pakistan in a perilous situation after 1st innings collapse

Pakistan's Cricket team, fully infused with fresh blood in the absence of some old stalwarts, collapsed dramatically for a petty score of 104 runs. The disaster paved a safe passage for the Black Caps' opening pair of Mathew Bell (89*) and Mark Richardson (64*) to surpass the total, providing New Zealand with the 1st wicket partnership record of 160 runs. It was also the second time in the history of New Zealand cricket that the two batsmen had passed the opponents' score without the loss of a wicket. This was the situation after the close of play on the 1st day of the 3rd and final Test of the National Bank Series between Pakistan and New Zealand at the WestpacTrust Park, Hamilton.

Pakistan took the field with Inzamam-ul-Haq getting his first break as captain of a Test XI in the absence of skipper Moin Khan joining the injured list and likely to remain so for the next 6 weeks. After winning the toss the New Zealand skipper very wisely asked Pakistan to bat on a greenish pitch designed to help the pace bowlers at the start. Daryl Tuffey (4 for 39) and Chris Martin (4 for 52) struck like lightening making short work of Pakistan's batting.

Martin commenced the demolition work by claiming the first 4 wickets in a span of 14 balls without conceding a run. Pakistan thus lost 4 of the top order batsmen in the first 10 overs. With the foundation badly shaken, the batting continued to collapse except for a 6th wicket consolation partnership of 50 runs between Younis Khan (36) and Humayun Farhat (28). The 3rd batsman to reach double figures was Imran Farhat who scored a valuable 24 in the opening stand of 28 runs. Among other players, five of them acquired ducks while two succeeded in using their bats for scoring 5 runs each. A miserable batting performance by any standards.

Not taking anything away from the New Zealand pacers, the disaster was almost of Pakistan's own making. The lack of application and the act of resorting to playing rash and risky shots instead of staying at the crease were major reasons of collapse. It may be all right to take pride in being a bunch of stroke makers but playing test cricket in the style of a one-day international was something for which there is no excuse or pardon. It was hazardous batting right through except for Younis Khan who played with a straight bat.

The situation required caution, which the Pakistani players did not bother to exercise. Surprisingly, even seasoned batsmen like Inzamam, Ijaz and Youhana were also swept by the wave of rashness. Unable to read the pace, bounce and movement of the ball correctly, most of the batsmen offered catches behind the stumps or in the slips. It was shocking to see a strong batting line disintegrating and eventually crumbling in only one session of the day giving its opponents all the time to brush them aside. With excellent bowling by Tuffey and Martin who shared 4 wickets each, the black Caps' gamble of total reliance on pace worked perfectly.

The redeeming feature of Pakistan's innings was the confidence displayed by the Farhat brothers who contributed 50 percent of the total score. The youngsters displayed relatively better control on their nerves than the seniors. Humayun Farhat who made his debut in this test mainly as a wicket-keeper made no serious mistakes behind the stumps. As for Ijaz Ahmed, I attribute his failure to the blunder committed by the selectors in showing him the door and recalling him and then trying to turn him into an opener, which he is basically not. It is not easy for a player to regain his prowess after staying out for a year in a state of agony and anxiety. The authorities perhaps did not realize that he was too good a player to be thrown out.

The Black Caps' prolific opening pair of Mathew Bell and Mark Richardson having already crossed the small summit of 140 runs was in total command of the situation. They literally ruled the day with a flurry of shots all round the wicket taking full advantage of the badly placed field. None of the bowlers troubled them seriously. The spectators, having created a picnic type atmosphere on the lush green slope, gave a thundering applause to Richardson who hoisted his 50 with a mighty six. Bell also played a fabulous innings of 89 not out.

Since the pitch was not likely to help the spinners, Pakistan's hopes rested mainly on Waqar Younis who had demolished the hosts during his last test at this very venue way back in 1993. He along with Wasim Akram skittled out New Zealand for 93 in the 2nd innings, chasing a total of 127 runs to win. Waqar ended the match with a magnificent haul of 9 wickets. Unfortunately, in this match he has not shown any signs of being a destroyer. The bowling friendly pitch at Hamilton was generally considered to be a welcome relief after the dead portable surfaces at Auckland and Christchurch but somehow the Pakistan bowlers could not extract any life out of it.

There were, however, two chances that could have given Pakistan a breakthrough. Younis Khan dropped a possible catch in the slips, while the umpire also sternly disallowed a loud appeal against Bell for a catch off Saqlain, at short mid-wicket. The specialists in the commentary box were of the view that the appeal was genuine. Anyway, one can dismiss these incidents as part of the game.

The play was called off early on account of bad light. Having scored 160 runs for no loss and leading comfortably by 56 runs, the batsmen at the crease are in full command. With its bowlers making no headway, Pakistan is in a perilous situation. Although it is too early to predict the result, the Black Caps are certainly in an advantageous position to clinch the equalizer.