Pakistan v West Indies, 2nd Test, Multan, 1st day November 19, 2006

The newest odd couple come good



Imran Farhat: one half of a contrasting opening pair on a red-letter day © Getty Images

Any day Pakistan's openers - any combination - put on an 83-run stand, you have to mark it down as a red-letter occasion. It doesn't matter what the pitch is doing, who the bowlers are, a half-century opening stand from Pakistan is to be savoured, like happening upon a straight politician.

Imran Farhat and Mohammad Hafeez are this month's flavours and though this was only their third Test as an opening pair, they at least have the left-right combination going for them. Like all good pairs, they also work on contrasts. Hafeez is the straight man, more circumspect when the format demands, the drives always checked and clipped. Farhat is the chancy dasher, flashing, slashing and forever striving to blow the opposition down. Not that it always works.

Farhat was at it again, though he met with more success than recent efforts. He didn't budge much until a cut off Jerome Taylor brought him a boundary in the day's fifth over. Ten overs later arrived drives through cover and point and the brace freed him. He even managed, after a litany of pull-shot horrors, possibly his first meaty, convincing pull in recent memory, through midwicket off Darren Powell. In between a few more wristy slashes, a ninth Test fifty was marked, with a sober nudge to square leg. Nothing bettered a straight drive down the ground after lunch, played with so much simple grace you wonder why he doesn't play it more often.

The fifty was needed; bad enough that he has been more miss than hit recently (and the dismissals haven't been pretty), but add dropped catches and a determined Yasir Hameed lying in wait and the relief was understandable. As he spoke to the press later, Farhat breathed easy. "I'm very happy with my innings. I have been struggling recently and this was an important innings to get some confidence back and get into some form. A first day pitch is never easy to bat on but it became better for strokeplay later."

A dismissal, untimely, ungainly though not unfamiliar, tainted it a touch and the opportunity of a first century since April 2004 vanished. "Sometimes in cricket you have sessions where you struggle and it happened here. I will learn with experience to convert these into centuries."

If there is solace, it is that he wasn't alone, in throwing away his wicket or failing to fully cash in on a start. There was relief for statisticians, at least, on the relatively early dismissals of Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan. Both are well over a thousand runs for the years, Yousuf only a triple century or so away from most Test runs in a calendar year. Their partnership too seemingly breaks records every time they come together and an umpteenth century partnership was waiting before both played shots they have spent the last year studiously avoiding.

Pakistan weren't allowed to rush, but neither did they appear in any great predicament. They are one more wicket down than they would like to be but still have Kamran Akmal and Abdul Razzaq to come. Much was promised, a little less was delivered and neither side can fully claim ascendancy. The kind of day, in fact, of which you say the following morning's session is likely to be crucial.

In which case, Inzamam-ul-Haq's breezy 31, appearing every bit the lord in his manor, bodes well for Pakistan's prospects. Nudged out in batting heroics over recent months by the two Ys, here and now in Multan seems as good a place as any to remind everyone of why he's still the man, if not the main one.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo