Pakistan v India, 3rd Test, Karachi, 3rd day January 31, 2006

Faisal repays the faith

Faisal Iqbal vindicated Pakistan's decision to play the extra batsman with a fantastic century © AFP

Just as one began to believe that the Karachi Test was going to obliterate all memories of the two games gone by, normalcy was restored. The 22 wickets that tumbled on the opening two days appeared slightly freakish and the match, almost inevitably, re-entered the batsmen-oriented loop. Curators and bowlers can try what they might, but runs, it appears, is what is written in the stars.

No-one can bet against the trend continuing, with India transcending time and batting forever, but this is the time to realise the calibre of steel they have been up against. Astonishing as it may sound, Pakistan have bossed the game for all but 10.3 overs - that crazy opening period when cricket resembled nine-pin bowling. They might have been the team with the more defensive bowling attack, they might have lost the toss, and they might have had to endure more trying circumstances, but Pakistan have shown a bounce-back ability to be admired. Like predators cornered in their own backyard, they punched themselves out of trouble and now have their opponents on the mat, with ample time to finish the job.

One of their tactics singled out for criticism was playing the extra batsman over another seamer. Defensive it might have appeared, but the manner in which Faisal Iqbal repaid the faith, waltzing to his maiden hundred, put all theories to rest. Proving that his red-hot domestic run was no eyewash, Iqbal ground the bowling with a punchy approach and appeared to feed off the confident wave that the team was riding. Despite knowing that this may well be a one-off game, with a fit Inzamam-ul-Haq soon replacing him, he didn't hold back when offered chances, whacking the loose balls with merciless relish. It remains to be seen if Pakistan have the bowling ammunition to win them this Test, with the pitch easing up and slowing down, and if indeed picking the extra batsmen was a luxury too many, but none can fault Iqbal, or for that matter Farhat, for letting them down.

Pakistan, though, have three big concerns: Younis Khan's average against India dipped from 118 to 106, Mohammad Yousuf fell three short of his fourth hundred in four Tests; and Shahid Afridi managed only a solitary six in his half-century. And here's another shocker - the batsmen have actually not covered every single record possible and, in what was only the fourth instance in Test history, the top six batsmen all crossed 50.

The benign nature of the surface did play its part but the Indian bowling, not for the first time this series, leaked runs far too generously. Irfan Pathan went back to his trundling methods and why he often loses large chunks of pace must be investigated. Zaheer Khan looked jaded too and Rudra Pratap Singh's inexperience showed, but the deepest cuts were inflicted against Anil Kumble. In a 14-over spell between lunch and tea, he troubled the batsmen with his fastish top-spinners, picking up two wickets, but it's hard to remember the last series where he was scattered around so easily. It's not been easy on these tracks, and no spinner has had any success so far, but, for all his persistence, Kumble has lacked the threatening touch. It's not often that he goes for more than four an over through the series and, though he's bound to come back stronger, it's been one bumpy ride.

In his first nine Tests as captain, Rahul Dravid had never chosen to field and he may look back and struggle to find out how this game, when he inserted Pakistan, has taken such a surprising turn. He may take solace from the timeless Durban Test of 1938, when England drew the game after making 638 for 5 in the final innings, just 42 short of victory when their liner had to leave for home. Compared to that mountain, Dravid's boys probably have a molehill to climb. But what a mighty molehill.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo