Kaneria restricts India's ambitions

In December 2001, in the Bangalore Test between India and England, Nasser Hussain evoked shades of Douglas Jardine in the manner in which he stifled India's batting, in particular Sachin Tendulkar. By ordering Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff to bowl well outside his off stump and Ashley Giles to bowl on his leg stump, Hussain upset the purists who bemoaned his negativity and cynicism.

Others - including Hussain himself - justified it as an implicit recognition of the limitations of his bowling in the face of a luminescent opponent. His bloody-mindedness, and his sharp, hawkish features enhanced the similarities with Jardine and his Bodyline tactics.

Inzamam-ul-Haq shares neither spiritual nor physical traits with either English captain, but he faced today - and will do throughout this series - a similar dilemma; how to stop brilliance with instruments of relative mediocrity. Pakistan's bowling attack on this tour is one of their weakest in living memory, and yesterday they were given a chilling reminder of this by Virender Sehwag.

Today promised more of the same, and briefly before lunch it seemed as if the floodgates would remain ajar. Inzamam's overtly defensive captaincy yesterday - he removed the third slip for Sehwag as early as the eighth over - can conceivably, in hindsight, be acknowledged as a pragmatic acceptance of his bowlers' weaknesses in the face of India's star-studded batting line-up. Today therefore became an exercise in damage-limitation.

By spreading 5-4 fields and sticking to one slip, Inzamam protected against a glut of boundaries, and as the pacemen stuck to a mixture of unreachable bouncers and wide deliveries, runs slowed to a trickle in the afternoon session. Importantly, a lead that had threatened to reach 200-plus by the close was kept in some kind of check. It helped too that one end was bottled up by the remarkable Danish Kaneria.

Kaneria was introduced to the attack 90 minutes after the start of play, and then wheeled away for 32 overs on the trot. He tempered the excessive variation he is often prone to exhibiting and concentrated instead on strangling the flow of runs, an objective he achieved admirably. Additionally - and enticingly for the remainder of this series - he troubled most of the batsmen as well, beating Sachin Tendulkar's outside edge a few times with loopy, dipping legspinners and cleverly cloaked googlies.

But his performance warrants special mention simply because of the varied nature of genius with which he was confronted. A ninth century in 32 Tests is testament to Sehwag's quality, but his true worth lies in the manner in which he defies everything and anything: conditions, pitches, strategies, plans. He took on Kaneria today - sometimes streakily - but he took him on when others either didn't, couldn't or wouldn't.

Where Sehwag exuberantly flaunts his brilliance, his idol Sachin Tendulkar presents a more mature and malleable portrait of genius. Rather than flouting Pakistan's defensiveness as Sehwag did, Tendulkar today accepted it, and chose to express himself within it. He threatened before lunch to overshadow his protégé as he eased into drives straight down and square of the wicket, but once Sehwag was gone, Tendulkar became almost contemplative.

This was not the Tendulkar of yore and folklore: it was the Tendulkar of today, exercising the restraint that has characterised some of his recent innings. It has also caused undue trepidation among his many fans; unnecessary only because he has still scored, to keep things in perspective, over 1000 runs in his last 11 Tests, which suggests he is more than capable of delivering. Perhaps the burden of reaching century No. 35 played on his mind, although he has broken enough records to be used to handling such pressure.

So maybe, along with a woefully out-of-touch Sourav Ganguly, Tendulkar could shoulder some of the blame for not trying to yank the initiative away from Pakistan today. Post-lunch, India lost momentum, scratching out 129 runs in 58 overs, and although Pakistan strangled gamely, either of the two should have taken a leaf out of Sehwag's book. But India still, lest anyone forgets, ended the day 135 runs ahead with an ominously dreamy VVS Laxman still at the crease. That Tendulkar was out in the nineties in a similar manner to the 90 he made in that Bangalore Test provided rather an apt footnote to the day.

Osman Samiuddin is a freelance writer based in Karachi.