Pakistan in South Africa / News

South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth, 4th day

Inzamam's calm, steadying hand

Osman Samiuddin

January 22, 2007

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Kamran Akmal: better with smaller gloves © AFP
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Trying to prove that bowlers win you Test matches and batsmen only save them is a bit like trying to prove whether the chicken or the egg came first. Both are essentially self-defeating arguments.

But if you look at the away record of Pakistan, a country where fast bowling is inked in as the secondary occupation on most national identity cards, then you might be deluded into thinking you're onto something. Of the subcontinent sides, their performance is far and away the best; this was their 44th Test win abroad, exactly a quarter of all their away Tests. Sri Lanka and India, countries where penetrative bowling attacks have been rare, have won 15 and 27 respectively and, as a proportion, far less than Pakistan.

Pakistan's batting has mostly struggled abroad, but to be able to call on a Fazal Mahmood; an Imran Khan; or either of the two Ws, that has forever given them a chance. India and Sri Lanka are both just discovering how much they do help abroad but Pakistan have always known it.

It took two schools of fast bowling, plus an ever-present leg-spin ingredient, to make this result possible. On the first day, Shoaib Akhtar, a throwback to Pakistan's wilder, woollier fast bowlers, provided the impetus while by the third, a less pacy, more wily future presented itself. Pakistan's fast bowlers may not be so fast in future, but they might not be any less effective.

But trust the match adjudicators to pour water over any such argument, while reminding us that cricket remains, for no apparent reason, a batsman's game. Mind you, Inzamam-ul-Haq did his utmost, and then some, to edge out Mohammad Asif for the award. Arguably, his unbeaten masterpiece was the equal of Asif's endurance yesterday, but he sealed it with some fine leadership, juggling limited resources astutely - and off it too, if his placating of Shoaib and Bob Woolmer is anything to go by. The clincher must have been his genial sportsmanship, those two catches he almost took, but immediately indicated he hadn't. The odds on him becoming a successful political leader post-cricket continue to shorten (he has set up a hospital too, in Multan).

His efforts were needed not only to inch ahead of Asif, but to eventually puncture South Africa's apparently indefatigable attempts to clinch the series. Being bowled out for 124 in the opening two sessions of a Test isn't often the best way of winning a Test, but until an hour after lunch today, they looked as though they might sneak it.



Leadership with the bat, and in the dressing room © AFP
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Makhaya Ntini certainly did enough for it, as did Jacques Kallis, whose 91 yesterday made sure that South Africa had a reason to fight today. But it was Shaun Pollock you felt for, for he hasn't deserved to lose anything at all in a personally fantastic summer.

He did his bit with the bat but his were the key wickets in both innings. He mirrored Asif as Pakistan stumbled in the chase, testing, outwitting batsmen and giving up runs as grudgingly as insurance companies give hand-outs. Mohammad Yousuf was outfoxed twice, no mean feat in his form and had he held on to a difficult return chance from Younis Khan, he may not have been on the losing side.

The hosts will also wonder how, and why, lower orders are becoming such an obstacle. They've been hurt by them enough in recent Tests, not least here, and though Kamran Akmal is no tailender, at 92 for five South Africa were in.

It remains only to acknowledge a wonderful innings from Akmal, a man whose form behind the stumps has tailed away alarmingly over the last year. He had a horrific time with the bigger gloves, though unfortunate news from back home, regarding his father, may not have helped. But a gambler's start was eventually replaced by an assured middle and a bombastic end, all the while easing pressure off Younis Khan.

Their partnership won Pakistan the Test. Or wait: was it the bowlers who did that? It is unlikely to matter in Pakistan's dressing room tonight.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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Osman Samiuddin Osman spent the first half of his life pretending he discovered reverse swing with a tennis ball half-covered with electrical tape. The second half of his life was spent trying, and failing, to find spiritual fulfillment in the world of Pakistani advertising and marketing. The third half of his life will be devoted to convincing people that he did discover reverse swing. And occasionally writing about cricket. And learning mathematics.
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