print icon
Osman Samiuddin

The thin red line

Nowhere are lines between success and failure thinner than in ODIs

Shoaib Malik: Proving indispensable © Getty Images
Nowhere are lines between success and failure, between panning a team and praising them to the skies, between hailing a captain and booing him, between a good decision and a bad one, thinner than in ODIs. All through this match, in so many decisions and moments, this fact screamed out for Pakistan. In virtually all of them, Pakistan lost.
How thin is the line? The decision to bring on Abdul Razzaq as late as the 30th over initially seemed an inexplicably poor decision by Inzamam-ul-Haq; then, as he got rid of Sachin Tendulkar and bowled a couple of tight overs, a masterstroke, before finally reverting to being a baffling one.
So thin is it that Rana Naved-ul-Hasan's experimentation, so often decisive in victory, proved crucial in defeat here. He'd had a bad day anyway when he replaced Razzaq in the 42nd over, started with a wide and went for 13 in that over and 16 in his following one. He mixed length balls with too many shorter ones, varied his pace but no yorkers were bowled. Inzamam's decision to bring him on in the first place, especially when Mohammad Asif had overs left looks a poor one. But given that Rana's bowling at the death has been generally spotless, and that Razzaq had given 12 runs in the over previous, it probably wasn't as poor a one as it eventually became.
Should Inzamam have attacked more, by keeping a gully or an extra slip early on when the ball was seaming? Maybe, but his bowlers did have India at 12 for 2 and things looked peachy. Umar Gul and Asif beat the bat so many times in any case and by such narrow margins - the thin line again - another early wicket could have changed the game. Kamran Akmal's leg-side dropping of Sachin Tendulkar when he was 36 illustrates vividly this thinness; had he caught it, who knows what could have happened.
Maybe also Pakistan didn't need to fiddle with their top order and certainly in light of the collapse to 82 for four, it appears they shouldn't have. But Shahid Afridi as opener is a concept as open to failure as it is to success. One of Inzamam, Mohammad Yousuf or Younis Khan could have come in earlier and Kamran Akmal, once demoted from opening, further down. Maybe, but in the end 288 appeared for the most of India's chase a competitive total.
Instead, so thin is the line that it probably serves more purpose to look at what Pakistan can take from here. Like Rawalpindi, they have at least the remarkably versatile powers of Shoaib Malik to celebrate. Until and including Peshawar, Malik's importance in Pakistan's chases demanded attention. But two more innings since highlight his importance in any situation and particularly in a crisis. He walked in at 39 for two in the seventh over and despite losing partners at regular intervals until the 33rd over, when Younis was dismissed, he herded momentum. Only five boundaries came in his first fifty, yet he kept the run-rate at nearly five until the 40th over. Thereafter, he upped it further and although he went in the 46th over, his acceleration and Razzaq's explosion ensured that Pakistan's reputation for batting deep remains intact.
Unlike Rawalpindi, they will also take some solace in their opening bowlers, Asif and Umar Gul. This was only Asif's fourth ODI yet he already seems so seasoned, it is unnerving. From the off, he settled into a groove, not giving room on length or line, taking two wickets and beating the bat many more times. In only his fourth game, he did precisely what has come to be expected of him. But possibly, Gul's spell was more crucial to Pakistan, for two games into his comeback, he had looked lost internationally, going for 84 runs in 12 overs. His start here was also erratic, but he made sure that with the bad balls, plenty of unplayable ones were also delivered. Even more often than Asif, he beat both Tendulkar and Dravid and deserved more than the solitary wicket he ended with.
Finally, though, so thin is this line that after two consecutive losses, Pakistan find themselves 2-1 down and their recent ODI effervescence looking a little stale. They find within them, an absent strike bowler in Shoaib Akhtar and one, in Rana, who has been so out of sorts, he has conceded nearly eight runs an over through the series. They find that although their batting is long, its upper half isn't looking so robust. Over the last 18 months, they have been renowned for their ability to not lie down and fight. Forget thin lines for that ability, more than anything, will now come under its sternest examination.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo