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November 21, 2005
Two days into Faisalabad, two days which have been unequivocally Pakistan's, and this final line of thinking might even gain some currency. If yesterday afternoon and this morning were Afridi-ed (there is no other way of describing it), then this afternoon belonged, belatedly in a Test, to Rana.
As it is Pakistan, it seems right that he wasn't even a bowler - or a cricketer at all - to begin with. He played hockey till he was 16. Even when a knee injury forced him to take up cricket, he did so only as a wicketkeeper who could bat.
Perhaps it explains his non-conformity to fast bowling virtues. He's not slow, healthily brisk instead, and he does find swing, conventional and reverse, where others struggle. But if the better legspinners are said to possess a fast bowler's mentality, then Rana inverts this truism: he is a fast bowler with a legspinner's mentality, so much variety that he possesses.
It could be that having toiled domestically, on A tours and various age levels, then given up on the game for four years only to come back before finally breaking into the national team, a developed sense of the survivalist was inevitable. It flows in his bowling and if ever there was one, then Rana is it: truly a result of placid Pakistani pitches.
He runs in easy, paces it well, and concludes with a robust rock-back before delivery. The real picture comes at the peak of his jump, where he is bolt upright, head well over a bent left arm and eyes focused on the batsman.
Opening the bowling today, he was conventional initially, diligently sticking to an off-stump line to both openers. He switched to round the wicket in his third over and began, much in the manner of Danish Kaneria who says his hands are constantly itching to experiment, his real work. Here he pitched full, there shorter, here he bounced, then went wider, then angled in. Eventually, after the drinks break, he seduced an Andrew Strauss pull, to the right line but not length, onto the stumps.
Initially, Michael Vaughan was kept honest on the front foot, but in his next over, he threw in a slower ball, with a conventional off-break grip. Next ball came a yorker that dipped, curved in a fraction and splayed the stumps. Soon after, Marcus Trescothick was nearly duped by a slower ball, only this time, it came from the back of the hand. In his last over, the 20th of the innings, he bowled two short of length, two progressively fuller and another back-handed slower ball. The range would have done Abdul Qadir proud.
Although he finished his ten-over spell - one of the longer spells by a pace bowler in this series - he wasn't yet done; he never is which is essentially what makes him. Late in the day, as Ian Bell sought to dominate Danish Kaneria, Rana flung himself twice in two balls, to stop boundaries, once at mid-off and once running from mid-off to the straight boundary. While others bowled, he clapped, he ran, he urged; basically, he didn't stop. One local reporter, with alarming accuracy, said, "Rana chaah gaya he game par." Or, loosely, he swarmed the game, was all over it. Which he was.
It is a shame then, but in keeping with a low-key demeanour - follicularly-challenged and not express pace doesn't a Pakistani fast bowler make - that Rana's work is likely to be buried beneath a day so full of incident that it will rival any Pakistan and England have shared on the cricket field. And there have been a few. Not many would have thought more umpiring shenanigans possible at this venue between the same countries. Fewer would have envisaged Afridi roughing up the pitch as he did England. Fewer still would have thought that both would only share top billing with a blast in the stadium.
Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge
Plays of the day from the tri-series match between Zimbabwe and South Africa