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February 12, 2006
Inzamam-ul-Haq's decision to bat after winning the toss surprised many. It is the host captain and the coach who not only have a say in the preparation of the pitches, but also have better knowledge of the local conditions than anyone else.
It was believed that the pitch was supposed to take turn later in the day and that made Inzamam put India in. But in the subcontinent, the matches are so tilted towards batting that anything less than 300 runs becomes an achievable target. Although the pitch did encourage some movement in the initial few overs of the first innings, using that condition to the hilt without wasting a ball remained the crucial factor.
I have seen no bowler more dangerous than Irfan Pathan, who can make use of those helpful conditions. Under such conditions, most of the bowlers may beat the bat several times and appear good but Irfan gets wickets. Seldom does he miss out on such opportunities.
Sreesanth, who struggled in the previous game, came out with flying colours at Rawalpindi. He mainly shaped the ball out, used the short-pitched delivery effectively and in the end bowled some good slower ones to bring in variety. His bowling speed, averaging 136 kmph, keeps the batsmen in two minds. He could be an asset only if he adds accuracy to his bowling. Apart from his bowling, what impressed me most was his attitude. For someone who was ill and down the previous day, he played the game with verve. It's an irony in cricket that often when a player is coming out of a niggling injury or a brief illness, he puts up a performance which is above expectations.
Sreesanth could learn quite a few lessons from these two outings. He must understand the significance of being preferred over more experienced colleagues like Ajit Agarkar and Zaheer Khan. Opening the bowling for the country straightaway is a rare but great opportunity in one's career. Only the bowlers who have missed out on it or messed up when the opportunity came would realise it.
The Indians, after taking four early wickets, let Shoaib Malik and Younis Khan establish a decent score. One might even think that the bowlers could have done a better job from that position of strength. I believe the Indians missed a regular fifth bowler. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag are effective on real turners but not on the flat wickets in Pakistan. It was risky to rely on them for 10 overs.
Pakistan's mindless batting continued from where they had left it in Peshawar. In this game, Mohammad Yousuf and Shahid Afridi's wickets cost them the match. The wicket of Yousuf, the backbone of Pakistan batting, was too important to be lost so soon. One can understand Afridi's dismissal as that is the way he generally plays, but Yousuf should have dropped anchor. His dismissal made things easier for India.
Once it used to be a normal practice that the team would always bat first and put the pressure on the team chasing. These days, the batting conditions are so good that the team winning the toss wants to field first to let the bowlers make use of the early conditions. In hindsight, if Inzamam had opted to bowl, it could have been Asif who would have relished the conditions instead of Sehwag. Now with the series evenly poised and the next couple of games being day-night affairs, the teams' think-tank must put their heads together to read the conditions well before picking the final XI.
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