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November 27, 2006
A sleepy day of Test cricket began with a sleepy sort of record. When Inzamam-ul-Haq announced an unchanged XI for the third Test in succession, it was only the second time in their history that Pakistan had gone through a three-Test series without making a single change.
The other time was in 1964-65, at home, against New Zealand but many might argue that there was actually reason for change this time. Upon winning the toss, Inzamam also could've avoided batting first, at a venue where sides losing the toss and batting second have won 17 times out of 21. He did neither and the West Indies pounced.
Or at least, they worked out a deceptively flat looking pitch quicker than Pakistan did. Balls kept low, the surface always slow and there was the occasional bit of seam movement. Mohammad Yousuf sussed it early at least and later claimed it was a surface not easily given to run-making. "It is sluggish and balls are keeping low. It is difficult to know what a good score on this surface is."
From the description, it could have been a modern-day Caribbean pitch, though Darren Powell laughed off the suggestion. "It's not a West Indian pitch at all. It is very slow and some balls are keeping low. But I think bowling straight is the most important thing and just keeping that pressure applied."
To their credit, that is precisely what they did. Pleasingly, it is what they have done since the first day at Multan, where they somehow extracted four wickets from a lifeless surface. It is a point worth stressing for few attacks as inexperienced as this come to Pakistan and perform with as much discipline. Refreshingly, Powell admitted it hadn't been easy.
"It is kind of difficult to keep the discipline. You expect balls to come off the pitch quicker but we have done well last week and again today to take seven wickets on the first day. I guess it's like being a giraffe and adapting to different situations."
To some, like Corey Collymore, keeping that discipline, probing those areas, appears an easier prospect. Entirely in keeping with this tour, he was the best bowler. Entirely in keeping with this tour, he also had the least luck, particularly when stomach cramps later prevented a first, eagerly-awaited press conference appearance.
For Pakistan, the day was troubling and ultimately as flat as their last five days of Test cricket have been. They are lucky to have their own Atlas in Yousuf at the moment, especially given the wretched bother Inzamam finds himself in with the bat. But it is the continued presence of three all-rounders, none of whom are fully this or that, in the team that hurts them.
Between them, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Abdul Razzaq have produced three fifties and three wickets in the series, a haul that might be excused from one of them let alone all. They provided 43 runs between them here, Razzaq's 50-ball seven a particularly inept stand-out. If it's just about passable in ODIs to have so many - and even there the results are not emphatic - it is pointless in Test cricket. They have been hampered by it in Multan, they already are here and it is likely to remain a problem anywhere around the world.
What harm in trying out just one specialist? Bolster the batting, perhaps, with an Asim Kamal, Faisal Iqbal or Yasir Hameed? Or beef up the bowling with Samiullah Khan Niazi or Abdul Rahman? They are all specialists, regular squad members now too, yet only one of them has played Test cricket this year, their careers, in effect, stalled because of Pakistan's preference for bits and pieces. As their prospects stall, so it is likely will Pakistan's.