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November 24, 2005
For an hour after lunch, Faisalabad promised. It promised a Test win, it promised a long-awaited series win and it promised the magic that took hold of Multan on the final day. In the end it delivered only a moral victory. As that is rare enough for Pakistan and its cricket, it should be applauded.
Further, morality shouldn't take anything from the most comprehensively bossy Pakistani performance against worthy opposition in some time. Apart from a couple of periods of play, the result of this match was for Pakistan to decide, through their hands and, importantly, minds. But what morality shouldn't mask, as Inzamam admitted afterwards, is their approach to the finale. This is where ifs surface: if they had taken all those chances in England's first innings? If they had scored quicker yesterday afternoon and had another hour at England today? Eventually, both contributed in some part to their failure to win.
The tension of leading a series, which Pakistan is new to, holds peculiar pitfalls. Trailing, which they are familiar with, leaves you with only one option where leads allow for uncertainty and prevarication. The nerves showed in the first innings, where Pakistan reversed recent progress in their fielding by spilling numerous catches, simple and difficult but all crucial. Most vividly, it surfaced in their batting yesterday, when they seemed unsure of whether to press for a win or hold out for a draw and Inzamam said as much later. Given that they hadn't won a series for so long, it was understandable but it can be equally argued that the risk was worth it, especially as another Test remains. Ultimately, in not wanting to lose first and then attempting a win, Pakistan got caught in the middle.
The plan, lacking in ambition though it may have been, mirrored Inzamam's second century of the match: uncertain tipping on caution, definitely unhurried but nearly perfect. At least in execution of the stated aim, of saving the match first, it must be admired. When he resumed this morning on 41 and lost Rana soon after, potential for quick collapse and a gettable target remained. Eating up some time and scoring some runs was the need and Inzamam set about it impeccably. And by flipping the tailend tradition of protect and farm on its head, he did it with innovation.
In Shoaib Akhtar, he had the new Matthew Hoggard, a batsman as solid as he is annoying. By giving strike to Shoaib religiously at the beginning and end of most overs, he allowed overs to be eaten up. While on strike himself, he ensured the target became more distant. At one stage in their partnership, Shoaib had faced 49 balls for seven runs and Inzamam, 14 balls for 22. In all, of the 85 runs Pakistan scored in nearly 27 overs, Inzamam contributed 59. Target improbable, match saved. As Michael Vaughan admitted afterwards, "Inzamam was the difference between the two sides in the whole of the game." He might have been the difference between a draw and a loss when the possibilities of a win also remained, but that in itself is a worthy accomplishment.
Had the risk been taken and thus what could have been, of course, was glimpsed immediately before and after lunch. As Shoaib and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan produced, by turn singularly ferocious and supremely nuanced spells of fast bowling, Pakistan sniffed blood. Suddenly, hyperactivity surged through them. Every delivery held threat, every fielder buzzed, every appeal was prolonged and heartfelt, the crowd, magnificent throughout, joined in.
For varying reasons, this match was important for both. Shoaib sustained here what he brought to Multan; not just his menace, but also his commitment, his attitude and a barnstorming presence. Rana's five wickets, meanwhile, could herald a breakthrough of sorts. In danger of being branded an ODI specialist, he finally brought all the intelligence, a truckload of variety and, as ever, wholehearted endeavour to a Test match. In their own contrasting ways, they put together a new-ball performance, on this pitch, against this opposition, that wouldn't have been out of place had it been constructed by Imran Khan or the two Ws.
But as much as the result lay in Pakistan's control, there was little they could do about the playing conditions. As Lahore beckons, this should be noted. Due to bad light, a total of 55 overs were lost in this match, the best part of two sessions, time that could conceivably have brought Pakistan triumph. With similar conditions in Lahore and inexplicably a later start in the mornings, much the same threatens. Would it not make more sense, the PCB must be asked, to either schedule a series for September, as had been the norm for so many years? And would it not make some sense also, to try and push the case for Karachi as a Test venue or develop another outside Punjab, where weather conditions rarely threaten matches?
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