The return of Razzaq
Not often does sport allow a second chance. No wonder Abdul Razzaq had a big smile as he started his second act on a near-perfect note. Returning to the Pakistan fold after two years in the cold, Razzaq slipped back into the international fold without much fuss. Straightaway Younis threw the new ball to Razzaq. Just like that Razzaq sauntered up to the bowling crease in his laidback run-up. The crowd, too, warmed up to his return and welcomed him back with fervour.
Razzaq's first ball was full and moved into Aaron Redmond's legs. The bowler went for a big shout, the crowd roared, immediately followed by huge sigh as there was a faint inside edge. Two balls later, Brendon McCullum charged at a short one on the off stump, only to slash it directly to Fawad Alam at point. The Oval shuddered as the Pakistan fans went berserk.
Younis Khan didn't persist with Razzaq despite an expensive 10-run second over. But in his following over Razzaq increased the pace gradually, maintained the middle-and-leg line against the right-handed Martin Guptill, who paid the price for playing across the line and was declared plumb. Immediately Razzaq shed his cool façade and let out a shriek, raised both hands skywards in a fashion reminiscent of the Iranian weightlifter Reza Zadeh who had just straightened up to lift 263.5 kilograms (a world record, set at the 2004 Athens Olympics).
Razzaq's final figures of 3.3-1-17-2 were the second-best to the peerless Umar Gul but he had managed to give the early breakthroughs that swung momentum Pakistan's way, something they had failed to do so far in the tournament. Something Younis had been literally begging of his other strike bowler, Sohail Tanvir. "Razzaq gave the breakthrough I was looking for so far," Younis said. "I've always been confident if we get a good start we are on our way."
Younis's decision to open the bowling with Razzaq may be looked upon as a gamble despite him being an active performer for Hyderabad Heroes in the Indian Cricket League (ICL). The world of divide between the level of cricket in the ICL compared to the international arena was a fact not lost on Younis, who had a chat last evening with Razzaq, who had landed in London on Friday afternoon after a long flight from Lahore.
"I was chatting with him about both forms of the game being different but he managed really well," Younis said. The Pakistan captain did give it a thought before deciding to ask Razzaq to bowl the new ball. Surprisingly Razzaq had opened the bowling for Pakistan only 10 times previously in the ODIs - that was at the beginning of his career between 1997-2001.
"It was a brave decision on my side but having played the ICL for two years Razzaq is more experienced than anyone in the Pakistan team in Twenty20," Younis said. Having been a matchwinner in the ICL Razzaq proved his eminence in the domestic RBS Twenty20 Cup recently: he was the highest wicket-taker, fifth on the run-makers's list, and was the only player to hit a century.
Though Yasir Arafat's hamstring injury meant Pakistan lost a fast bowler, Pakistan's think-tank here and the selectors back home had no doubt about Razzaq being the best replacement. Strange how things turnaround in sport: two years ago the selectors had given up on Razzaq after his dreadful form, dropping him from the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa. A bitter Razzaq hit back at the selectors and even decided to give up the game. Obviously, he went back on his decision.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo