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The Bulletin by Sriram Veera
February 24, 2009
Younis Khan took full advantage of a dead pitch at the National Stadium, scoring his maiden triple-century - the third by a Pakistan batsman - to push his side to safety and the match towards a draw. After four bat-dominated days, the only interest now left in the contest is whether the new Pakistan captain can break Brian Lara's Test record of 400.
It was in line with Younis' character that he brought up the landmark with a reverse-sweep. The cap was off, sajda was performed and a million-dollar smile lit up his sunny face. Fifty-two years earlier, Hanif Mohammad hit Pakistan's highest Test score, a mammoth 337 against West Indies that took three days in making. The story goes that a Bajan boy, watching it from a palm tree, fell down and upon recovering consciousness in the hospital, wondered: Is Hanif still batting? He still was. Younis might well have elicited a similar reaction today. He batted on for 545 balls, and is not yet finished.
"I have never seen a pitch here where even on the fourth day not a single ball has done anything to trouble the batsmen," Waqar Younis said on air. Younis took full toll in the middle. He had worked out the pitch, the match situation and what he needed to do. Against Muttiah Muralitharan he defended a lot and nudged offbreaks to the on side before suddenly unfurling a slog-sweep. Occasionally, he charged down the track to lift over the infield. And as ever a Younis knock is incomplete without those reverse-sweeps. Against Ajantha Mendis, he rarely got his pad in way and nudged and dabbed his way without any fuss. It worked like a treat. When the mood seized him, he went for the big shot down the ground.
The game lapsed into bit of a farce in the last session. Mahela Jayawardene gave Tillakaratne Dilshan, Tharanga Paranavitana, Kumar Sangakkara and himself some overs. It got weirder when Jayawardene picked up the wicket of Faisal Iqbal. Younis helped himself to easy boundaries in that phase and moved from 243 to his triple-hundred.
Sri Lanka, though, persevered gamely till the tea break. Jayawardene used Chaminda Vaas and Mendis in an 18-over spell in the morning and both bowlers kept it tight, giving away only 37 runs. With the wicketkeeper standing up to the stumps and a lone wide slip in place, Vaas kept varying his pace and bowled quite a few offcutters. The batsmen remained cautious but Vaas succeeded in creating a couple of chances with his persistence. On one occasion, Younis edged an attempted cover drive but it flew between keeper and slip. The second time Vaas slipped one just down leg, beating Misbah's flick but Prasanna Jayawardene could not collect cleanly to complete the stumping.
Mendis toiled hard, mixing his deliveries well, using the offbreak as his stock ball and varying the pace. The batsmen generally played him with caution but did strike a few big hits. Younis reprised yesterday's shot - a smooth clean swing to the straight boundary - and Misbah hit the first six of the match when he cleared long-on.
In the second session, Jayawardene used the combination of Muralitharan and Dilhara Fernando, who had removed Misbah with an in-cutter just before lunch. Muralitharan could not create any pace off the track and it was left to Fernando to try posing a few problems to the batsmen. He bowled his heart out in what was his best spell of the match. He got the ball to reverse and was accurate throughout. He had a very close shout for lbw against Faisal with a ball that curved in but the umpire wasn't convinced. He then rapped Younis with a similar delivery but this one was missing leg stump. Mendis returned to trouble Faisal with his carrom balls but the batsmen survived to score some easy runs against the lesser bowlers.
The batsmen were intent on playing out time and managed to do just that. It might have made the cricket boring but the match situation left them with no other option. However, the bigger question still remains: When you are playing Test cricket at home after 16 months, and with Test-match attendance falling rapidly, was this dead pitch the best you could come up with? The authorities need to do a sincere post-mortem.
Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge
Plays of the day from the tri-series match between Zimbabwe and South Africa
Would he have fared better than the incumbent middle-order batsmen, Root and Ballance?