Pakistan v India, 3rd Test, Karachi, 2nd day January 30, 2006

Exposing India's frailties

Irfan Pathan has been bailing India out of trouble consistently of late © Getty Images

It's interesting how we've gone from a three-Test rubber to a two-Test series to a one-off contest to, finally, a one innings shoot out, all within a span of 18 days. After 4571 balls in the series, what separated the two sides was a measly seven runs. It was like two tennis players slugging it out for hours before reaching 6-6 in the final set. After 39 more overs, Pakistan had gone 7-6 ahead with a great chance to serve out the match.

India might be kicking themselves for several reasons. None of their batsmen managed a fifty, on a pitch where Kamran Akmal thrived as the ball got older; some gave it away with loose strokes, especially after surviving tough early spells; and their medium-pacers refused to be convinced that the fuller, the better. The surface did ease up but so did the bowlers, not shifting plans when things were slipping from their grasp.

Sample this: The first fifteen overs they bowled today contained more than 30 deliveries pitched short of a good length. Maybe it was a calculated move, taking the pitch and the changed conditions into account but it definitely didn't work. All that Salman Butt and Imran Farhat needed to do was to rock back. The rest, their superb bat-speeds took care of. How did both get out in the first innings? Driving full-length temptations. How many did they have to resist today? Around six. One can talk at length about the track getting benign but nobody should forget the oohs and aahs that Mohammad Asif and Abdul Razzaq were eliciting just minutes earlier, beating the batsmen with serious cut.

India will do well to emulate the persistence shown by Pakistan's attack, which has comprised one experienced bowler, one tyro and two allrounders (Danish Kaneria didn't even get a bowl). India were also helped by some clumsy catching and atrocious over-stepping, without which their condition might have been close to comatose.

What they need to recognise is the role being played by the lower-order, time and again scripting rescue acts and often, papering the cracks at the top. Against Pakistan at Kolkata last year, Nos. 7 to 11 combined for a crucial 232 runs; against Sri Lanka at Ahmedabad recently, they lifted them from 97 for 5 to 398; at Faisalabad they contributed 169 runs and played a vital hand in saving the game. So it came as no surprise when they managed 101 vital runs today, partly compensating for the top-order crumble last evening.

The one common factor in every one of the salvaging operations mentioned was Irfan Pathan, looking increasingly like a genuine batsman and passing the sternest of tests, whether it was the gut-wrenching pace of Shoaib, or the venomous cut of Asif and Razzaq. The two fours and a six he creamed off Shoaib showed he could give it back measure for measure, be it short or full, and fell only because he was searching for quick runs, with partners running out at the other end. He struck with the ball as well - getting rid of Farhat and pulling things back a shade.

Yet, Pathan must wonder how, after his utterly devastating opening spell yesterday, things came down to this. Here's a teaser. When was the last time India kept a side to below 250 in the first innings, yet went on to lose the game? Almost seven years back at Kolkata, when Pakistan were reduced to shambles (26 for 6), recovered through a wicketkeeper batsman, piled up more than 300 in their second innings and edged home in a close game. The first part has been enacted here. It remains to be seen if India can stop the remaining from repeating.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo