India v Pakistan, 1st Test, Lahore, 2nd day January 14, 2006

Courage after the disaster

Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid have begun well, but their job is far from over © Getty Images
A refreshingly positive response from Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid was the only saving grace on another day when India's bowling came from the Chamber of Horrors. After Younis Khan and an inspired Mohammad Yousuf had rubbed their noses in it in the morning, the bowlers and fielders could only watch with increasing horror as Shahid Afridi and Kamran Akmal - is there a more improved batsman in world cricket? - smacked it around like exuberant kids playing with a tennis ball in the park.

If India's bowling yesterday was disappointing, the display today was nothing short of atrocious. Ajit Agarkar and Irfan Pathan started the slide, bowling utter tripe with the new ball, and Harbhajan Singh was then hung out to dry by Afridi and Akmal. Even in this age of turbo-charged cricket, 353 runs at six an over was just sensational, and every coruscating shot would have felt like a whiplash for a team already demoralised by yesterday's events, both on and off the field.

Any criticism though needs to be tempered with an acknowledgement of how diabolical the conditions were for bowlers. The legendary Dennis Lillee came to Pakistan and left wicketless after three Tests in 1979-80, a series that included a Faisalabad pitch that Greg Chappell, speaking at the press conference, termed the best he has ever seen for batting. On such surfaces, only extreme pace or an ability to cut the ball will give you any chance of success. Sadly, for India, neither Agarkar nor Pathan could do anything with the ball, apart from pitching it woefully short or wide.

After being subjected to such a whipping, it would have been easy for the Indian batsmen to come out bereft of spirit and wave the white flag. But in Dravid, they have a leader who's as flint-hard as Steve Waugh, one who gave his players a lesson in courage and technique in the 13 overs available before stumps. The sways out of harm's way, and the dead-batted defensive strokes that dropped the ball at his feet were as eye-catching as the big-hitting that had gone before.

That brief passage of play showcased Test cricket at its finest - a batsman of peerless technique pitched against a fearsome pace bowler intent on testing him with brutish bouncers. And then there was Sehwag. No matter what his form, or recent lack of it, he finds an extra edge each time he squares up to Pakistan, and some wonderfully timed drives and flicks were encouraging signs to a dressing room pondering how to make some inroads into a mammoth total.

At Multan two years ago, Inzamam played an innings of tremendous poise and finesse after India had amassed 675 for 5, only for a run-out to stymie Pakistan's hopes of a draw. The force is still very much with Pakistan, but in Dravid and Sehwag, India's most consistent batsmen over the past three seasons, they will have to overcome formidable foes. There's also the small matter of a little guy by the name of Tendulkar...

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo