Pakistan v India, 2nd Test, Faisalabad, 1st day January 21, 2006

Brave gambit



RP Singh was India's most successful bowler on the first day © Getty Images

But for the identity of the man caught in the vortex, there would have been nothing remotely controversial about India's gambit to go into this Test with five specialist bowlers. But when the man forced to watch the action from the dressing-room balcony happened to be Sourav Ganguly, you can be sure that the decision was not a straightforward one, even if it made plenty of sense when viewed logically.

The batting heroics of Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid had helped gloss over the paucity of India's bowling resources at Lahore. Given the similar nature of the Faisalabad pitch and the depth of batting talent at Pakistan's disposal, it was imperative that the Indians maintained greater control, especially in the event of losing the toss.

Zaheer Khan and RP Singh were both massive gambles, one an established international prone to inconsistency, and the other a hugely promising 20-year-old with just eight one-day internationals to press his case. The fact that the two turned out to be India's best bowlers on the day vindicated the management's brave decision, even if the scoreboard suggested that India had taken a real beating.

Zaheer bowled with real verve, even if not at top pace. He didn't overdo the short stuff as he often tends to, and troubled most of the batsmen from just short of a good length. There was some movement off the pitch too, and the delivery that clipped the inside edge of Salman Butt's bat cut back in beautifully to force the mistake.

RP Singh started nervously as expected but then settled down to bowl a fine opening spell. Though Anil Kumble had failed to latch on to a Shoaib Malik slash off the first ball he bowled, an ungainly duck - with bat raised like a periscope - to a bouncer gave him the wicket that his untiring efforts deserved. It was one of those days when the better balls he bowled went unrewarded while two distinctly ordinary deliveries provided the wickets of Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf. Even the pasting that he got from Inzamam-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi in the late afternoon sunshine would have been a learning experience.

Re-education is, however, urgently needed for Irfan Pathan, who endured another wretched day. Even before Afridi shed the cloak of caution and carted him for two sixes and two fours in an over, he had been woeful, bowling short and wide and at a pace more suitable for a trundler than a new-ball bowler. The searing yorker that did for Adam Gilchrist at Sydney just over two years ago is fast fading from the memory, and that will be Pathan's fate too unless his bowling improves drastically.

As for Ganguly, who watched his former team-mates fight spiritedly and then struggle, there have been so many swings and roundabouts in his recent past that it's impossible to foresee where this leaves him. It's unlikely that India will play five bowlers in every Test, and it's not in the man's nature to go quietly. But the very fact that it was he, and not Yuvraj Singh or VVS Laxman, who had to make way tells you much about how his batting stock has declined in recent seasons. But for a reversal of fortune as dramatic as Moses parting the Red Sea, it's hard to see how it will ever soar again.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo