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January 29, 2006
Finally, a proper day of sustained cricketing goose-bumps and it couldn't have come soon enough. In the first over of the morning, we had more incident than at Lahore and Faisalabad combined and as the day grew, dipped one way, turned the other, rose and ebbed again, only the quality of the contest sustained itself. Of the many remarkable things about the day, possibly the most outstanding was Kamran Akmal's contribution. It took 12 hundreds, thousands of runs, eleven days and the first green-top to witness, by a distance, the finest innings of this batsmen-infested series and it was worth the wait.
Many things about Akmal are astonishing, not least that his batting, although essentially uncoached, is built on such a correct base. Where most of Pakistan's top order moved forward first only to be beaten by swing and seam, Akmal moved back to full height and repelled both. If it was full enough, he played straight, or at least made sure not to close the face of his bat. As always, in hitting his boundaries there was only a firm conviction in his method; in a different way to Virender Sehwag there is never a lack of doubt about his strokes.
Little things about his technique are refreshing; the footwork for the drives, the high and straight left elbow, the pivot on the pull. But this innings should be lauded in its entirity, in particular the modes of play it encompassed. He came in as low as No.8 with Pakistan at 39 for 6; the pitch had eased but only a touch and he only had Abdul Razzaq of the recognised batsmen for company. A stoic rearguard was demanded, of the type maybe that Moin Khan had engineered in Kolkatanearly seven years ago when he made 70 off 207 balls after Pakistan were 26 for 6. Akmal did that and simultaneously launched a quite unique counter, pacing it such that Pakistan's scoring rate remained comfortably over four an over.
Ultimately, it was an innings of multi-purpose; to quell disaster while imposing a presence, and none of the hundreds he has scored have come in such a challenging atmosphere. In the context of the situation, it was the type of batting rebellion that will remain etched not only on the brand new honours board (of century-makers) at the National Stadium, but in the mind for years to come.
If Akmal breathed life into Pakistan, then Mohammad Asif sustained it in the evening. Something about Asif seems right; he has a tidy enough action and as he showed in Faisalabad, a comprehensive hold over both his line and length; one wicket had been an unjust reward. But on a more responsive pitch, he seamed the ball both ways, much like Umar Gul had done in Lahore nearly two years ago and doubled his Faisalabad haul in seven overs. Like Gul, he too has a fresh energy, a naive endeavour and similarly moved the ball a little and a lot; Rahul Dravid was accounted for by one that straightened a fraction, VVS Laxman with one that cut back viciously.
The performance of both, however, hid a disappointing lack of intent on Pakistan's part. As the series has gone on, rumblings about their defensive mindset have grown. Mostly, they have emanated from the type of pitches that have been prepared. But dropping Rana Naved-ul-Hasan in Faisalabad wasn't exactly the most forceful assertion of aggression either, although it was said to be otherwise. But if there were still doubts about it, going in with only two specialist fast bowlers here and an extra top-order batsman settled the matter. The extra batsman didn't make a difference but the lack of another seamer, like Rana or Gul, might tell against them. Thanks to Asif, no proper assessment of that policy can be immediately made but there is an undoubted thinness about the attack. In any case, on a day of such cricket, after what we have seen, we should perhaps sit back and just savour it and not gripe too much about strategies and mindsets.
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