March 9, 2002

Rain, Inzamam come to Pakistan's rescue

LAHORE-The rain, overnight and intermittent through the day came to Pakistan's rescue, and with the weatherman forecasting more showers between Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, it might end up saving Pakistan from the humiliation of defeat in this second final of the Asian Test Championship. Other than rain, only Inzamam-ul-Haq (unbeaten 72, 209 balls, 268 minutes, 3 fours), and to a lesser extent Shoaib Malik (19 not out, 125 balls, 151 minutes, two fours) and Rashid Latif to come, stand between Sri Lanka and victory.

At close on the fourth day, Pakistan had made 248, adding only 55 to their overnight 193, and now they are adrift by just 46 runs from the massive deficit of the first innings, but more crucially without losing a wicket, to go into the last day hoping for more of the same.

Rock-solid, Inzamam didn't offer the Lankans a ghost of a chance in his resolute stay on the wicket.

At the end of the day, the question on many a lip was whether Pakistan can escape. This is now very much a possibility, albeit a remote one. If the duo continues in the same cautious vein, especially Inzamam, Pakistan may have an outside chance of saving this game. But if they do, it would be one of their more famous escapes.

Pakistan needed this huge slice of luck through weather (323 minutes of play lost) and some application by the batsmen, to survive after a thoroughly inept batting display by the top order in both innings. At stumps on the third day, they had been still 101 shy of the overall deficit of 294. And with six sessions to go, and save only one recognised batsman in Inzamam unbeaten, without weather having mercy at them they really had very little chance of braving the trial by Muttiah Muralitharan and the three seamers, Chaminda Vaas, Buddhika Fernando and Nuwan Zoysa.

The play was possible in only three brief spells of 11, 35 and 70 minutes in the pre-, post-lunch and after-tea sessions, with a total of 31.5 overs possible out of a regulation 90. On an otherwise grim day, the only bright spot was Inzamam making a workmanlike fifty while Shoaib Malik tried his best not to lose his wicket. In that he was helped by the Lankan fielders, with Mahela Jaywardene dropping a sitter at first slip off Muralitharan when he hadn't added to his overnight 6.

With that chance spilled, Lankans had further agony in store for them, as immediately afterwards rain started again. Fortunately for Pakistan, this time it came down in buckets. It slowed down, but continued for the rest of the first session, and no play was possible until 35 minutes after the lunch break. When play recommenced eventually at 1.15, Jayasuriya tossed the ball to the tall and sinewy Nuwan Zoysa in the hope that he may be able to take advantage of the dark, overcast and windy conditions.

Undeterred Inzamam continued in a watchful mien, working his way towards his first score of 50-plus in four Tests and six innings. But once he was within touching distance, he thumped Muralitharan to the cover boundary with a drive on the back foot. That brought the lean spell to an end for Inzamam; for his 31st score of fifty or more, he consumed 147 deliveries in this patient 187 minute vigil on the crease.

Rain stopped and the sun made a brief appearance late in the day. The Lankans, full of bounce and nerves all jumped onto the ground as if they were running out after a jail-break. So keen were they to get back in the fray after the rain holdups and get it over and done with to crown off their single most glorious season, adding to a succession of eight triumphs, that they all including the coach and physio literally started tearing off the covers from the turf. The hapless ground staff joined them willy-nilly. Their over-exuberance caused lots of water to spill on the outfield, and there were some howls of this being against the rules, but the Pakistan team, the neutral umpire and the ICC match officials looked the other way.

The Lankans over-enthusiasm, however, brought no dividends to them. When the play resumed for the third and last time, Pakistan had to go through 18.5 overs, but Inzamam and Malik both batted dourly to add only 30 runs in this period. But none of the Pakistani supporters grudged them not being more enterprising.