Yousuf continues his run-fest
A year that has already been a spectacular one for Mohammad Yousuf got even better as he stroked his way to yet another classy hundred - a record eighth in 2006, and his fifth in successive matches - on the opening day at Karachi. Requiring 148 at the start of the day to equal Viv Richards's record of most runs in a calendar year, Yousuf reduced the deficit to just 46, but his dismissal for 102 gave West Indies the edge, as they fought spiritedly in the field to restrict Pakistan to 257 for 7.
Imran Farhat contributed a useful 47, while most of the others got starts, but as has been the norm this year, Yousuf was the only batsman who kicked on. On a dry pitch lacking in pace and bounce - hardly anything rose above knee length, while Denesh Ramdin regularly collected deliveries around his ankles - Yousuf found his rhythm and timing with amazing ease, driving on the up with the languid grace that has been such an attractive feature of his batting. While others struggled to get the ball off the square, Yousuf creamed boundaries almost at will before missing a pull shot off Corey Collymore late in the day.
But for Yousuf's effort, West Indies would have been in complete command of the match. Despite losing the toss and having to bowl on a completely grassless surface, the bowlers kept their spirits up quite superbly throughout the day. They went in a bowler short - Dave Mohammed was dropped for Ramnaresh Sarwan - but the lack of bowling resource didn't affect them, as the fast bowlers all toiled hard. Collymore bowled with outstanding control all day, Jerome Taylor managed pace and some swing, while Daren Powell, even though he finished wicketless, bowled a whole-hearted spell late in the day, getting appreciable reverse-swing. Dwayne Bravo chipped in with two crucial wickets, and the fielding was sharp, with several direct hits - the only blemish was Denesh Ramdin's reprieve of Yousuf, when he was on 63.
Apart from that one lapse, though, it was a near-flawless knock from Yousuf, who became only the third batsman to run up a streak of five hundreds in successive Tests. (Don Bradman, with six, and Jacques Kallis are the other two.) Right from the outset Yousuf timed the ball crisply - a clear indication of the dream form he is in - even as the rest battled to overcome the lack of pace in the track. He leant into his drives and peppered the cover and extra-cover boundaries whenever the bowlers pitched it up outside off, and picked off anything on his legs with immaculate clips off the legs. A gloriously executed back-foot punch through cover took him past the 500-run mark for the series, as West Indies struggled to keep him in check.
The rest of the batting, though, remained a disappointment. Mohammad Hafeez was comprehensively beaten by a superb indipper from Collymore, Farhat promised a lot but fell to yet another poor stroke, Younis Khan was a victim of atrocious running between the wickets, while Inzamam-ul-Haq's battle for survival was a telling commentary of how ephemeral form can be. Widely recognised - till recently at least - as the best batsman in the side, Inzamam's struggles were in stark contrast to Yousuf's fluid elegance. The pair put together 66, of which Inzamam contributed a laboured 18 off 64.
Finding the lack of pace a huge hindrance, Inzamam pottered around, unable to time his drives or place the ball in the gaps. That he finally fell to the innocuous offspin of Daren Ganga, driving straight to mid-off, tells just how badly out of touch he was.
The West Indians, for their part, did most of the things right in the field. In a match they must win to level the series, it would have been easy to lose heart after seeing the way the ball behaved in the first couple of overs - there was no swing on offer, and very little bounce - but they fought on. Brian Lara often employed unorthodox fields: recognizing the fact that the edges to the slips might not carry, he reduced the slip cordon early on, instead using the short midwicket and short cover to try and snaffle the miscues. They were especially dominant in the last session, taking four wickets for only 73, and despite Yousuf's century, Lara would be happy with their day's work.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo