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November 30, 2006
It was easy to forget that a Test match was being played out at the National Stadium in Karachi today, a crucial one at that. And it was easier to forget that, as the day dawned, it was still a closely-run affair. Mohammad Yousuf dwarfed most of what happened on the field; a neat second Test century from Mohammad Hafeez was overshadowed and even the fact that the game, and the series, had truly run away from West Indies.
Brian Lara is a sharper man than most and despite the celebratory feel of the day - standing ovations were as regular as Yousuf's centuries this year - he was fully aware of the grave situation his side find themselves in now. "The situation resembles the one we faced against India at St Lucia earlier this year," he told reporters. "We got out of that though and we have recognized batsmen to follow after me and Ramnaresh Sarwan. We just have to stay out there and fight it out through the whole day."
Had they taken all the chances that have come their way - Yousuf has been dropped six times in this series - they would not find themselves in the position they are now, in the Test or the series. Catches were shelled this afternoon, two more from Yousuf though Lara insisted it did not matter for the now. "That part of our game is over. We have to concentrate on tomorrow. It has hurt us, yes, but our next Test is in May. We have to work on it and the catching will affect us more in the ODI game."
If the Test now rests greatly on Lara's magic, it will also rely, in part, on a surface that has apparently improved as the Test has progressed, confounding all pre-Test worries of chronic deterioration on the fourth and fifth days. Lara said, "It's a tough pitch for anyone and it hasn't lived up to expectations. But we needed to bat better in our first innings and build up a lead to put them under pressure. We bowled really well and I can't fault our bowlers at all for their effort."
The pitch was also on Yousuf's mind and despite becoming only the sixth Pakistani to make two hundreds in a Test, he was adamant that it wasn't up to standard. "It isn't easy to bat on. And it is definitely not a Test wicket."
But in the blizzard of all of Yousuf's landmarks, a significant one awaiting Lara has been all but forgotten. Seventy-eight more runs and he will become the first man to make 12,000 Test runs though understandably, as a priority, it finds itself low. "It's not on my mind at all. I just need to bat out the entire day. That is my number one aim. Sarwan and I need to do it and if needed others do as well."
Three delicious boundaries in Lara's unbeaten 18 were evidence of form and would be enough to spark some trepidation in most sides. West Indies need 405 runs from 90 overs and improbable as it appears, betting against Lara is rarely the clever option. Yousuf admitted, "We are in a strong position, but Lara's wicket is the key tomorrow."
Lara himself would not be drawn into predictions. "The total is not on our mind. We just want to bat out the entire day. That is our aim. We will take it hour by hour and hope that our batsmen will play their natural game," he reasoned.
It can be argued that if Lara does bat the entire day, then few targets are safe. If so, then it may make for a truly spectacular farewell Test appearance in Pakistan. And it is possibly the only achievement that could eclipse the feats of Yousuf.