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Pakistan v India, 2nd Test, Faisalabad, 5th day

Crumbs of comfort

Dileep Premachandran in Faisalabad

January 25, 2006

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Harbhajan Singh tolied for 47 overs without success but in such conditions bowling figures are no indicator of someone's quality © AFP
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Thank the Lord for small mercies. If this had been a Timeless Test like Durban 1939, the wretched folk condemned to watch this batting exhibition - to call it a Test match is to spit on the concept - might have been here till our 45-day visas expired. Even at the end, the pitch was nearly unmarked and good to go for another few days, a fresh-faced young girl where you would normally expect a withered old crone.

The figures tell their own story - 1701 runs for 28 wickets, five of them when Pakistan were just throwing their bats around. And at the end of two Tests, the four bowlers most expected to have an impact on the series - Shoaib Akhtar, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Danish Kaneria - had combined figures of 10 for 1181, with Kumble, who has gone at 4.65 per over while conceding 446 runs, accounting for six of them. This hasn't been a contest, it's been akin to a boxing bout where one man fights blindfolded and handcuffed.

The century-count already stands at 12, with Younis Khan having twice fallen in the 190s while amassing 476 runs - just 32 short of his tally in India last year. Even the likes of Harbhajan and Shoaib have come out and smacked the ball around with nary a care, reducing what was supposed to be an engrossing spectacle to an utter farce.

If anything though, India will head to Karachi the happier side. Twice, Pakistan piled up enormous totals, and twice India responded with some punishing batting of their own. But where the riposte in Lahore centred around Virender Sehwag toying with the bowlers, this one needed far greater reserves of grit and determination. At 281 for 5, with a near-capacity crowd baying for more, an Indian team of lesser vintage would have run up the white flag and subsided. But this crew, captained by one of the toughest men in world cricket and coached by another whose courage in the face of panic-inducing Caribbean fast bowling was legendary, are no soft touches.

Despite being initially roughed up by Shoaib, Mahendra Singh Dhoni launched a stirring counterattack that settled the fate of the match. By going past Pakistan's 588, and with the last five wickets adding 323, India more or less ensured that Pakistan wouldn't risk a last-day declaration.

There was also much that was heartening about the bowling. Though pillaged by the likes of Afridi, Younis and Mohammad Yousuf, the bowlers kept their discipline and never lost their rag, which was more than could be said for Afridi, Kaneria and Shoaib, whose errant beamer just about summed up the bowlers' frustration at the surface prepared.

Harbhajan and Kumble were again non-factors, rendered utterly ineffectual by the slow nature of the pitch. Harbhajan was heard complaining that even those who didn't pick his doosra still had ample time to read it off the pitch and adjust their stroke. In such conditions, bowling figures count for little, and are no indicator of someone's quality.

That said, Dravid would have been more than pleased with the way Irfan Pathan bucked up in the second innings, after Rudra Pratap Singh and Zaheer Khan had outbowled him in the first. Both men, last-minute inclusions, performed just as commendably at the second time of asking, seldom losing heart on a pitch that was crying out to be poured with petrol and vandalized. Zaheer was still bowling with zest when the second new ball was taken and the quick burst of wickets, inconsequential though it was, would have done his confidence a power of good ahead of Karachi.

All of these were just small sops though in a series that has thus far failed miserably to live up to its billing. The last three series between these sides were so enthralling and packed with incident that one almost forgot the many snore draws that had gone before. By going back to those bad old days, when avoiding defeat was the name of the game, both the rivalry and the health of the world game are being jeopardised. The Ashes gave Test cricket a massive blood transfusion, but instead of building on that, the pitches at Lahore and Faisalabad have been nothing more than an effort to slit its throat and slice open its veins. The game, and all those that cherish it, deserves better.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.
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