Winning ugly

It is doubtful whether Inzamam-ul-Haq has ever spoken to George Graham or Brad Gilbert for advice. Graham, with Arsenal, and Gilbert, in tennis, brought to the fore the concept of winning ugly; of triumph when performance hasn't been optimum, of fighting even when things are not going your way, and eking out something tangible. But after Pakistan's nine-wicket win in the Lahore Test, to level the series, maybe he should call them to offer his gratitude.
Pakistan's victory, unlike many of their recent or most memorable triumphs, was an ugly one, but that shouldn't take away from its' magnitude. There was no spectacular three-over burst from Shoaib; instead, there was a steady 12-over lesson in the art of efficiency and accuracy from Umar Gul. There wasn't a swashbuckling knock from Inzamam or Yasir Hameed. Instead, Imran Farhat, uncharacteristically, tightened up and buckled down, trading in swishes outside off for patience and restraint. There was Inzamam himself, quietly and slowly orchestrating the tempo of the innings throughout a sweltering second day. The fielding wasn't scintillating, but as in the awkward chase and dives of Danish Kaneria and Umar Gul, there was an honest commitment. If Pakistan pulled a magical victory out of a hat in New Zealand, they ground one out of sweat and toil in Lahore.

What had been missing in Multan - the spirit, the basics, the starts and maybe the pitch - reappeared at Lahore. The discipline that the Pakistan camp had emphasised, right from before the ODI series, but with more urgency after the Multan debacle, was finally put into practice here. The manager, Haroon Rasheed, happily agreed when speaking to Wisden Cricinfo. "The discipline was here throughout the team's performance," he said, "and it paid dividends. They learnt from their mistakes and applied that here, which is what we are very happy about."

The bowling, through the second innings, showed marked improvement. The pitch, and a bit of confidence helped, but Aaqib Javed, coach of Pakistan's under-19 team, highlighted another crucial and hitherto unheard reason for it. "The amount of pressure on Sami and Shoaib before Multan was phenomenal. They have never really faced that much hype before. New Zealand, Bangladesh and South Africa, prior to this, weren't really that high-profile. And before that, Wasim and Waqar were still around. But this was the first time that they have had so much pressure put on them, and it showed." With the pressure off after the defeat, the argument goes, the bowlers performed somewhere closer to, without fully reaching, their potential.

The batting, led by Inzamam and Farhat, ensured that the recklessness that marked their display in Multan was a distant memory here. Rameez Raja highlighted the importance of Inzamam's influence. "The batting was very controlled and Inzamam played a big part in that, really controlling and cajoling the batsmen around him to play as he did." Asim Kamal's inclusion in particular bolstered the batting, bringing balance and depth in equal measures. His dogged play with the tail, before he launched into a carefully planned assault towards the end, demonstrated his value to the team, and proved crucial in wresting back the initiative the Indians had taken on the third day.

Inzamam's leadership, always the subject of criticism, was under further pressure before the Lahore test, and his response was the best possible in the circumstances. His captaincy, as Raja confirms, is "about leading by example. His form has been excellent and with his performance he quietly sets the tone for what he wants from his players. He is a calm man who can handle the pressure. He kept his cool after Multan and it paid off."

They say that adversity is often the best judge of character, and this Test was always going to be an examination of the Pakistan team's mental resilience. Immediately after the Multan test, Inzamam and the chief selector had stressed the importance of motivating the team and lifting their spirits. To respond in the manner that Pakistan did hints not only at their own characters, but perhaps at another unseen side of Inzamam's captaincy.

They go to Rawalpindi now a changed team from the one that arrived in Lahore. But just as Multan should not have provoked the intense criticism it did, Lahore should not spark off celebrations just yet. Raja warned that the very fact that it took Pakistan such a crushing defeat to respond in the manner they did illustrates a lack of professionalism and consistency. Inzamam, as he admitted at the press conference, also knows there are still weaknesses to work on before the next Test. However he approaches the decider, he can at least now claim to know a little more about his team's character, and their capacity to grind out a win when the going is tough. One feels, given the expected fightback from his opponents, that that character and ability will be severely tested once again.

Osman Samiuddin is a freelance journalist based in Karachi.