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November 12, 2005
Sometimes, despite essentially correct intent, things don't pan out quite as they are meant to. Having won the toss on a pitch more placid than the setting for Virender Sehwag's tour de force eighteen months ago, Pakistan would have wanted their batsmen to initially eschew runs in favour of occupation. Only 26 boundaries and the solitary six in nearly a full day's play suggests that the intent was there. And for 54 of the day's 87.4 overs the execution of that intent was also there, backing up the noises emanating from their camp the night before that they were determined to shed their reputation as notoriously tardy starters.
Pakistan's openers today - the ninth different combination in the last nine Tests - set the trend, not only providing their side with a robust base to build upon, but establishing a model of patience and judiciousness that the middle order promised to emulate. Eventually, they never quite managed.
In light of Pakistan's much-publicised problems with openers, a start of 80 runs was admirable for more reasons than just its quantitative value. There was pleasing contrast in both their contributions - Shoaib Malik's checked pushes and drives sat well with Salman Butt's wristier steers square on either side of the wicket - but it was their restraint, their determination to see off the new ball that would have caught the eye of most.
Malik's application would have temporarily cast aside doubts about his ability to transform himself yet again for the team, this time as an opener, but Butt's abstinence in particular was refreshing. Although on occasion he evokes Saeed Anwar with some of his strokeplay, the instinctive placement that came so readily to the latter is not with Butt. With nimble hands, he maneuvers his shots into space, as he did with a flicked cover drive of Paul Collingwood in the day's 17th over. A few overs before his dismissal, he squirted a drive just to the right of gully to the fence off Andrew Flintoff, a late twist of the wrists allowing him to elude the fielder.
In any case, manufacturing shots has never been his issue. That has been his ability to temper them. So ironically, the most pleasing aspect of his second Test fifty was its relatively dour nature. He resisted England's attack, and himself, for nearly four hours. His duel with Matthew Hoggard soon after lunch embodied this altered approach.
Marcus Trescothick placed two men barely a couple of yards apart in the cover region to plug Butt's favoured scoring areas and eventually frustrate him into dismissing himself. For a spell of twenty minutes, Hoggard tempted Butt to drive, preferably in the air. Mostly Butt held back, but when in the same over he miscued a pull and then scythed uppishly to deep point, his patience was stretched.
His efforts echoed those of another promising left-handed Pakistani opener burdened with a just reputation for dash and brash in the last year. Imran Farhat's unhurried century against India in Lahore in March 2004, didn't only contribute to a Pakistan win, it should have heralded his arrival as a Test opener. His failure to build on it, however, is partly why Pakistan now finds itself with one specialist opener in a 16-man squad. For Pakistan's sake, the hope must be that Butt capitalises where Farhat didn't.
Butt's dismissal, however, after his personal battle was won, in a sense embodied Pakistan's day. Mohammad Yousuf and Hasan Raza could conceivably claim to be the victims of two very good deliveries, a claim strengthened by the fact that they were both new to the crease. It was the dismissals of Malik and Younis Khan which really hurt Pakistan. The former had been at the crease for just under two hours and the latter over two and a half but essentially, two integral components of Pakistan's top order managed only 78 runs between them in that time. Even Kamran Akmal threatened to instigate a lower order revival, digging in for nearly 90 minutes. Like the others, however, it just wasn't enough.
A day that promised so much for more than half its duration, then, ended with Pakistan in some trepidation. Now, on a pitch which initially induced subdued resignation in one of the world's more potent attack, Pakistan find themselves slowly but steadily being nudged behind the eight ball.