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January 22, 2006
Familiarity, if nothing else, clearly breeds runs. As Pakistan and India play each other in their eighth Test in less than two years, patterns are emerging. Something about Pakistan's bowling appeals to Virender Sehwag's baser instincts; Younis Khan's cheerleading run-scoring also excels when the attack is Indian. Into that group Shahid Afridi has now barged in.
His 154 at Iqbal Stadium was his fifth Test hundred, but also his third against India and second in successive innings against them. Last year, in much the same manner, he had pummeled them in innings of 59 and 58 at Kolkatta and Bangalore and his first Test century was made at Chennai, in 1999.
"I enjoy playing against India," Afridi told the press at Iqbal Stadium. "It has always been good doing battle against India, it brings the best out of me. There is always an added edge when we play India, it gives me great joy when I do well against them."
Runs against India, however, are part of a broader successful return to Test cricket. Having not played a Test for nearly 30 months, he returned to the team against Australia in Sydney last year. A second-innings 46 sparked a run which has since seen him average 55 in scoring nearly 800 runs from eight Tests against India, West Indies and England. He insisted, however, that he hadn't changed his approach to any great extent.
"I have not made any changes to the way I bat, I bat in the same style as I used to earlier. I maintain a positive approach. People like Jayasuriya and Sehwag also are aggressive in both forms of the game. Cricket is changing, and you have to keep pace with changing times. I have grown in confidence with increasing success, and the idea is to perform whenever I get an opportunity. My aim has always been to play myself in for two or three overs and then keep the scoreboard ticking over. It sometimes happens that boundaries come in a clutch, but that is not something which is planned."
That first hundred at Chennai is unlikely to be matched - "That is my best knock to date" - in his eyes but his two hundreds in this series have become special. "It is not easy to make Test hundreds and I will cherish both these knocks."
It's easy, in the spectacle of his batting, to forget that his all-sorts legspin provides a cataclysmic option to the attack. Many of the 18 wickets since his comeback have come at vital moments, when partnerships have had to be broken or key batsmen removed. He only bowled an over today, an intriguing one in any case, and undoubtedly will bowl more as the match progresses. This series' bete noire - the pitch - doesn't fill him with hope though.
"It's looking very good from a batting point of view. Kaneria is getting a bit of turn, but otherwise, there is nothing much in it for the bowlers. Rahul and Laxman are batting very well, they survived the new ball which was our best chance of making inroads. The Kookaburra ball becomes soft very quickly, and that makes the job of the bowlers tougher. We will need an extraordinary effort to bowl India out twice.
"The tracks we played on against England last year were much better in the sense that there was more turn and bounce, especially in Lahore." Such has been his all-round presence, however, since his return that despite the pitch's flatness, it is unlikely that Afridi will not play a role, any role, for the duration of this match.
Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala