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January 13, 2006
The first day of this series mirrored the events at Multan back in March 2004, only this time it was Pakistan's batsmen dishing out the punishment. On a pitch that could best be described as comatose, Younis Khan played the dazzling lead, reprising Virender Sehwag's effort of 22 months ago, as India produced a bowling performance nearly as wretched as that at Adelaide on the opening day in December 2003.
Then, Australia piled up 400 for 5 before Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Ajit Agarkar led India to a victory that was as improbable as it was stirring. Such reversals of fortune don't tend to happen every other day though and with the series just a day old, India are already on the ropes and barely hanging on.
They bowled with some semblance of discipline in the first three hours of play, but once Younis and Mohammad Yousuf started stitching together an outstanding partnership, the bowling became increasingly rag-tag and listless. The basics that Greg Chappell loves to talk of were frequently ignored, and the fielders watched with increasing dismay as short and wide deliveries were crashed to the fence with contemptuous ease.
Younis, who must go to sleep each night wishing that he could play the Indians every day, was exemplary, stroking some wonderful boundaries and also harrying the fielders constantly with tap-and-run singles. Yousuf was even more belligerent, driving, lofting and placing the ball with customary languid elegance as the Indians played fetch all afternoon.
As demoralising for the Indians was the identity of the most profligate bowler. Long before the toss, and given India's lack of penetration with the new ball, it was evident that Kumble would be absolutely central to the team's chances. But he had one of those days that are best forgotten, dropping short and straying onto the pads far too often. The batsmen, especially Younis and Yousuf, had little difficulty in either rocking back and cutting him for four, or pulling him over midwicket with almost minimal risk.
The pace bowling, a misnomer given the speeds that were being clocked, was just as depressing. Both Irfan Pathan and Ajit Agarkar were tidy in the opening spell without threatening a breakthrough, but thereafter they were driven and cut with ease. There was no consistency in line and length, and some of the shorter deliveries attempted were almost laughable. In the absence of swing, traditional or reverse, and lateral movement - a video session watching how Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz bowled in India last season wouldn't be amiss - the onus was on them to keep things tight, but the inevitable four-ball or two every over meant that the batsmen were never pressured.
Harbhajan Singh was an occasional threat, and Sourav Ganguly distinctly powder-puff, and Rahul Dravid had run out of options long before the close of play. Unless Kumble can reprise those Adelaide heroics on the morrow, Indian dreams of a first-ever victory in Lahore will remain just that.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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
Would he have fared better than the incumbent middle-order batsmen, Root and Ballance?