Pakistan in South Africa, 2006-07 January 30, 2007

Inzamam rues lost opportunity

Cricinfo staff

Inzamam ponders the one that got away © AFP

Inzamam-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, acknowledged that the 2-1 series loss to South Africa was one of the more disappointing of his career and that his side's top-order batting simply hadn't been good enough.

Imran Farhat and Mohammad Hafeez struggled through the series, making only one fifty between them, while Yasir Hameed, at one-down, also failed to make a real impact. "I believe in the theory that if you keep giving your batsmen enough opportunities, they would perform but there are times when you cannot be patient enough," Inzamam said.

"I was really disappointed by the way some of our batsmen played in the final Test, especially in the second innings when we could have easily achieved a 250-run lead. It was a difficult wicket but I still believe we could have scored 250 to 300 runs in the second innings, something that would have helped us win an important series." Farhat has already paid the price and becomes the fifth member of the squad to be sent home as he will play no part in the ODI series.

Despite a valiant fight, Pakistan couldn't stop South Africa from reaching the target of 161, thus losing the series. Given the surfaces they played on and what should've been a strong bowling attack, but one eventually ravaged by injury, Inzamam recognized this as a golden opportunity lost.

"We have lost a golden opportunity to win a series overseas against a top side. It is one of the biggest disappointments of my career. We have won many Tests at home, but to be ranked among the best you have to win overseas," he said.

"The fitness problems with the bowlers didn't help, but it also showed that the team had grown together and learned to compete well."

Mohammad Asif (19 wickets) and leg-spinner, Danish Kaneria (15) carried much of the bowling for Pakistan, bowling over 300 overs between them. "Asif has immaculate length control and a natural ability to swing the ball both ways. He is also quick to spot a weakness in a batsman and work on it. Kaneria has improved his bowling and has the ability to take 500 Test wickets."

Inzamam himself left the field on the final day of the Test with a return of the back pain that has troubled him intermittently over the last two years. He has been advised rest for four to five days and said only that, "Hopefully I will be available for the one-day series."

Meanwhile, Imran Khan added his voice to those expressing disappointment at the series result, arguing that dropping Shoaib Akhtar for the series was Pakistan's first big mistake.

Shoaib was flown to South Africa after injury to Umar Gul, and destroyed the South African top order on the opening day of the second Test match, which Pakistan won. He then pulled a hamstring after bowling just 11 overs and was later sent back home for treatment and rehabilitation.

"Pakistan committed the blunder of not taking Shoaib from the start of the tour and his injury at Port Elizabeth could have been because he wasn't match fit," Imran told AFP. "Some good things have also come out and now the team management realise Tests can only be won through matchwinners."

For Pakistan's other matchwinner, Asif, there was further praise. "Asif is well on his way to become one of the greats. If he gains a little bit of pace through weight training he can be more lethal."

Imran was also critical of Inzamam's decision to bat at six and Mohammad Yousuf at five. "Yousuf is the best batsman alongside Australian Ricky Ponting at the moment but how many times Ponting has batted below three? And Ponting always leads from the front," Imran pointed out.