January 31, 2002

Youhana wrests advantage from West Indies

It was a day for the disciplined rather than the dazzling. The Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium, hosting its first ever day of Test cricket, as well as the fifth ever Test at a neutral venue, saw a low-key Pakistan restricted to 230/5 in 92 overs by a West Indian side who stuck to their guns and made the best of the conditions. Yousuf Youhana, increasingly Pakistan's Mr Dependable, helped himself to a composed unbeaten 78, and Younis Khan impressed with 53, but those were the only two names to distinguish themselves.

The day started with Waqar Younis winning the toss and electing to bat first. Not everyone agreed with his decision, but it was probably the only sensible thing to do, especially with the wicket being an unknown quantity. In the past, it has happened more than once that a Sharjah wicket, parading as a flat batting track, ended up as a slow turner that all but killed strokeplay in the latter stages of the game.

As it turned out, the Pakistan skipper could only watch in dismay as debutant opening batsman Naved Latif fell with just three runs on the board. Mervyn Dillon, swinging the ball in late, made sure that Latif had a forgettable debut when he trapped the right-hander plumb in front. Latif did not trouble the scorers.

Taufeeq Umar, who made a century on Test debut against Bangladesh at the age of 19, was composed at the wicket and played several shots that marked him out as a player to be watched, but he perished on 24 after looking good for more. Younis Khan, another young talent rated very highly in his country, did his bit at one end. Playing predominantly with a straight bat, Khan worked hard to get a sense of the wicket and the bowling. Exercising abundant caution, perhaps more than was needed, Younis blunted a West Indian bowling attack striving to keep the ball just short of driving length and on the off-stump.

Skipper Carl Hooper, who picked up a wicket just before the luncheon interval, understood the need to mix things up a bit and persisted with his off-spin. Keeping one end tied up with steady seam bowling, Hooper flighted the ball just enough to draw Younis Khan into a false shot. Chopping at one just outside the off-stump, Khan (53, 129b, 4x4) found Chris Gayle at slip with the score on 94. His innings had, however, succeded in giving a faltering Pakistan innings much needed solidity.

Inzamam ul-Haq (10), of whom much was expected, faintly nicked a Dillon delivery through to the wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs. In characteristic fashion, Inzamam trudged slowly back to the dressing room, visibly unhappy with the decision.

At 94/4, there was a tiny chance that the West Indians might be able to run through the Pakistani batting line-up. If Hooper harboured any such hopes, Youhana made sure he laid them to rest by the end of the day. Walking out to the middle as cool as ever, Youhana gave his teammates a display of the kind of approach needed on a wicket like this. Stroking the ball well when it was full, Youhana milked the bowling for runs. When the rare loose ball was on offer, he made sure that he capitalised, showing the full face of the bat at all times.

To keep Youhana company was all-rounder Abdur Razzaq, a man who has played the role of second fiddle to perfection many times in the past. Not looking his best and yet keeping his head down and plugging away, Razzaq ensured that Pakistan's score reached 178 before he made a mistake; that mistake was his last. Chasing at a ball well outside the off-stump from part-time medium-pacer Wavell Hinds, Razzaq (34, 96b, 3x4 ) nicked the ball through to the keeper.

Stumper Rashid Latif (27 not out) joined Youhana out in the middle and saw Pakistan through to stumps without further damage. There was one last minute scare for Youhana as a spooned catch off the bowling of Merv Dillon was put down by Cuffy at mid on in the 91st of the day. Youhana's patient 78 (165 balls, 8 fours, 1 six) took Pakistan to a score that they can build on appreciably when the second day's play starts.