Overcast Multan queers the pitch
The good news is that it isn't as dusty as it often is in Multan. The bad news is that it is considerably colder, the clouds looked threatening in the morning and locals mutter that rain is not far away. If conditions remain similar overnight, a result might not be far away either as Pakistan and West Indies begin the second Test on Sunday.
The weather means a trend might be bucked tomorrow morning; in four Tests so far at this ground, the side winning the toss has always chosen to bat but in helpful conditions, both captains will fancy a punt on fielding first. Brian Lara's decision to bat first in Lahore, amidst similar murk and cloud, backfired within the first hour and ultimately cost the Test. It didn't help when Bob Woolmer later admitted Pakistan would probably have fielded first.
That was another Test, another venue, another surface. Thankfully, the 22-yard strip of brown didn't attract undue attention from either side; drier than Lahore, but more conducive to batting was the general consensus and possibly easier to read. Anyway, Lara acknowledged, poor batting on any surface never helps the cause. "I didn't read the pitch well at Lahore and it lasted a little longer than I thought. Getting out for 206 on the first day at Lahore was not on and the guys fully understand that we played some poor shots.
"We didn't give the bowlers the situation they needed to ensure that we were competitive. That was unfortunate, but that's now behind us and we are looking forward to Multan. We're still trying to win the series and for that, we have to win this Test."
As ever, few poor shots came off the captain's bat and support from the rest would not have been such a bad thing. Lara's would have been a lone hand at Lahore had he not been supported, not for the first time, by Shivnarine Chanderpaul's typically unobtrusive second innings 81. And as quietly as he goes about his run-making, so too do his landmarks slip in; Multan will be, to many people's surprise no doubt, his 100th Test.
If you look hard, it's been some career too: over 6000 runs, a respectable mid-40s average and 14 hundreds, some of which, like the 72-ball hundred against Australia at Guyana, speak of a rich and rare quality. Last week's fifty was a more sedate effort, due in some part undoubtedly to the food poisoning that has troubled him since his arrival.
That might yet rule him out of this Test, though Lara, understandably, hopes that he will play. "He is still getting over and we expect him to join us in the middle tomorrow. He's been able to play and still perform well and he is feeling a lot better now, but he is not 100 per cent. I know he wants to play in his 100th Test match and hopefully he should be fine."
The last time West Indies visited Pakistan, they were wiped out three-nil and a most comprehensive result it was too, two Tests won by an innings and a third by ten wickets. A fourth successive heavy defeat in Pakistan makes a less than promising forecast this time round, but there is an altogether different feel to this side than the disjointed, rancorous one led by Courtney Walsh.
Inzamam-ul-Haq knows it too. Asked to compare this batch of tourists to the class of '97, Inzamam said immediately, "This team is more united. Their recent performances are also very good, especially in ODIs and they play better, more aggressive cricket. They are a good side and we have to be on our toes against them. The series is still not over though we want to do that here."
Pakistan are well-placed to attempt it at least and a buoyant practice session in the morning confirmed that home is where they appear the happiest. Pre-series talk of the struggle without Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif has receded, to the extent that they may consider unearthing an appropriate replacement in Samiullah Khan Niazi here. Inzamam, a man not prone to giving away much, was unusually suggestive about it during the press conference: "It depends on the conditions but we might go in with a specialist fast bowler or spinner." As it does in these situations, the axe will fall on an allrounder and fifties from Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik seem to say it might be Abdul Razzaq who misses out.
Other than that, it is much as you were. No answer emerged to the opening problem at Lahore. For stability's sake, rather than his performances, Imran Farhat will likely remain but the ice he is skating on is swiftly thinning and Yasir Hameed is waiting. More of the same will be expected from Umar Gul and Shahid Nazir as well. Inzamam is keen that they do not rest on the laurels of one fine performance. "We should be consistent in our performances as a team and the bowlers should know that one Test win is not enough. Gul and Nazir have to keep performing well."
Pakistan: 1 Imran Farhat, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Inzamam-ul-Haq (capt), 5 Mohammad Yousuf, 6 Shoaib Malik, 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Shahid Nazir, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Danish Kaneria, 11 Samiullah Khan Niazi
West Indies: 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Darren Ganga, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Brian Lara (capt), 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Dwayne Bravo, 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Dave Mohammed, 9 Jerome Taylor, 10 Fidel Edwards, 11 Corey Collymore
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo