Enigmatic Pakistan confound again
Pakistan cricket doesn't lend itself to analysing. For nobody yet knows what motivates its cricketers, or what brings them down. How far will they plummet before things can't get any worse? How many times will we witness one session of madness undoing all the hard work of the previous sessions? Will they have such passages one after the other? When exactly do they start one of their mercurial comebacks? Perhaps only after the biggest of optimists have given up. Perhaps one could hire a psychologist-scientist team to find out, but it's very doubtful if it would work.
In Galle that session came right at the end. At the P Sara today we had it up front. In less than two and a half sessions Pakistan lost 18 wickets for 137 runs, and with that, perhaps the series. Perhaps has to be used because you never know with Pakistan.
To say they don't belong here will be inaccurate. To say they do will not be consistent with the lack of Test-match temperament they have shown so far. To make sense of what they have done in two sessions will not be a task for those with a logical bend.
What is explicable is that the choice of squad was poor, made worse by the choice of openers today. Both the captain and coach had suggested this was a bat-first track which required patient negotiation during the first session. Yet they sent in a kid (in terms of Test cricket) with no experience in opening the batting, even in first-class cricket.
"Because we came here with just two openers, we had the choice between Shoaib Malik and Fawad Alam to open with here," Misbah-ul-Haq said. "Because Salman [Butt] was feeling a bit low in confidence, we rested him. I think he [Shoaib Malik] is doing well in the middle order. We are looking to the future, and Shoaib Malik has to play in the middle order in the long run, that's why we picked Fawad Alam as the opener." Go figure.
It was obvious that Fawad didn't possess the required technique, and his shuffle across the stumps proved to be his downfall. What is inexplicable is that Fawad was the fifth wicket to fall. This is not to take away any credit from Nuwan Kulasekara, who bowled a good spell, but check the highlights package, read the ball-by-ball commentary - neither the pitch nor the bowling was lethal enough for his bowling figures to read 3.4-0-6-3.
Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf played needless shots, Khurram Manzoor again played forward with his weight still back, Misbah got an inside edge outside the off stump. The captain, Younis, will himself have to take the blame, for he tried to cut a ball that was too full. Younis has been a very good player of spin, but so far in this series he hasn't survived long enough to play the spinners.
Malik looked solid in the middle but soon started to run out of partners. But there was no conspicuous attempt to push the scoring rate or farm the strike before the tailenders eventually got out. The result: Pakistan outdid themselves and dubiously beat their lowest score against Sri Lanka - one they had just acquired in the Galle Test. In doing that they also achieved their seventh-lowest total in Tests.
Like many others, Pakistan themselves fail to make sense of these two sessions. "It happens in cricket, especially with..." Misbah said, followed by laughter and a pause "…Pakistan." There can't be a bigger expression of exasperation for followers of Pakistan cricket.
Coming into this match, they had looked to draw inspiration from their comebacks in the World Twenty20 barely weeks ago. Therein lies the difference. It takes session upon session of resilience to come back from such defeats in Tests, not just from one inspirational spell. "It does a bit to the team," Misbah said of the Galle defeat.
Test cricket gives a chance to come back. "We are looking forward to making a comeback in this game," Misbah said. "Try to bowl them out quickly tomorrow. And then hopefully play like we did in Karachi and have a big score.
"It's just a matter of first few spells. Especially on these wickets, the new ball is very important. If you get through the new ball, then I think you can score big runs. We will try to survive at the top in the next innings, and then score big."
These are ominous signs for Pakistan, that not everyone has given up as yet. Has the most enigmatic team reached a point from where it can't get any worse?
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo