Who says - test matches have lost their thrill and are no more worth the trouble? The excitement that prevailed on last day of the first test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at Rawalpindi will be remembered by thousands of spectators who witnessed the awe inspiring finish live at the stadium and millions who watched it on the TV. Even on the previous days there were many instances thrilling enough to raise the heartbeats. Irrespective of the fact that who won and who lost, the nerve racking proceeding of the test gave the spectators their money's worth. The credit for this wonderful show goes to the ground-men for preparing a grassy - result oriented pitch and saving the cricket lovers from the agony of a drawn game. A few more matches of this nature will surely restore the cricket fan's dwindling interest in test cricket.
The pre-match situation was pretty interesting. The Sri Lankans having won the one day series 3-0 were ridding on the crest of victory. They were fully confident to repeat the magical performance in the test matches also. On the other hand Pakistan was in quest for the restoration of home advantage that it lost as a result of defeat at the hands of Arjuna Ranatunga's Sri Lanka team in 1995-96 followed by suffered against the visiting South Africa and Zimbabwe. The humiliation suffered Down Under both in the tests as well as one dayers had almost shaken the team to the extent of changing the captain and putting on the fence some senior players. The nation's morale was shattered with no faith left in the team.
Under the above scenario, the Pakistan cricket board was faced with the twin problem of regaining its lost status in the eyes of local as well as international cricket bodies and discovering fresh talent to replace the seniors showing signs of fading out. The group of 18 players called for the practice camp was thus a blend of youth and experience. The seniors were those who had represented Pakistan in the both version of the game for years while the bunch of youngsters compromised of the boys who had played for Pakistan a team, Pakistan Under-19 or performed wonders in domestic cricket.
As winners of the one day series the visitors were reigning supreme while Pakistan having slipped down to 6th position in international ranking had to regain the paradise lost. It could only be done either by winning the test series or else giving an impressive performance. The PCB thus adopted the wise policy of relying more on experience. From among the promising youngsters Younis Khan was the only one to be awarded the coveted test cap. The young lad had done exceptionally well in domestic cricket followed by a good performance in one dayers against the visitors
Aamer Sohail who was, once upon a time, a strong player of Pakistan's edifice managed to stage a come back. The experts, however, felt that the team selected for the test was a bowler short. The apprehension proved right when Wasim Akram suffering from a hamstring failed to bowl in the second inning. The valiant trio of Waqar Younis, Abdur Razzaq and Saqlain Mushtaq had to take a mountain's load, adversely affecting their performance. While opting to play six batsman in the side skipper Saeed Anwar had not given due weightage to the batting prowess of all rounders Abdur Razzaq, Moin Khan and lion hearted Wasim Akram who along with young Younis Khan played a gladiators role in Pakistan's second inning. With a doubtful physical fitness and using a runner, had he not played a gallant knock of 79 invaluable runs, Pakistan would have been down with humiliating defeat as against a respectable one.
On a green top pitch likely to help the bowlers, Sanath Jayasuriya decision to put Pakistan to bat was correct. The players were fully aware of the expert's opinion on behaviour of the pitch. Pakistan's collapse for a pathetic total of 182 runs in the first inning was mainly on account of the players non - professional attitude. With no efforts to graft the inning, most of them threw their wickets playing atrocious shots. The redeeming factor of the inning, however, was the return to form of star batsman Inzamam Ul Haq who had been a miserable flop during the whole of Carlton and United series.
Pakistan had an inglorious start losing 3 wickets for 59 runs on the board, with the moisture having partially dried by lunch the pitch eased up a little but still the wickets kept falling. Inzamam, however, provided some respectability to the score by playing a prolific inning of 44 runs. Playing flashy strokes and making no efforts to dig in, the players did not appear having come out of the one day match syndrome. Had our batsman concentrated fully, the team would not have been bundled out for a petty 182 runs, the total that posed no worries to visitors. Wasim Akram left the field on account of the hamstring immediately after Sri Lanka commenced its inning. This badly depleted Pakistan's bowling arsenal. The weakness supplemented by poor fielding enabled the visitors to pile up a huge total of 352 runs. Arvinda Desilva having been specially called to strengthen the team's batting scored a chanceless 112. Pakistan faced a deficit of 171 runs. Arjunna Ranatunga dropped by Moin Khan in early stage of the match had cost Pakistan heavily. Squaring up the lead followed by building a fighting total was a daunting task for Pakistan.
In the second inning Pakistan looked a much improved side. Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq being doubtful starters for being sick, it was a golden opportunity for young batsman like Yousaf Youhana, Abdur Razzaq, and debutante Younis Khan to excel and establish their credentials. Younis Khan, however made it good by scoring a prolific 107- a century on debut that remains the cherished dream of every crickter. He received immense support from Wasim Akram (79) batting with a runner at the other end. Earlier, skipper Saeed Anwar by contributing invaluable 84 had laid a solid foundation for Pakistan's second inning. The three players had enabled accomplished the Herculean task of taking Pakistan out of the embarrassing situation. Had Pakistan not batted so poorly in the first inning and conceded a lead of 171 runs, the test was in its grip.
Sri Lanka's second inning in which they needed only 220 runs to win against Pakistan's depleted bowling attack, was the most exciting event of the match. With a full day at their disposal and no chances of rain, the visitors adopted the right strategy of taking no risks. Playing a captain's inning of 56 Sanath Jayasuriya kept boosting up his players. Bowling with full vigour, the Pakistani bowlers had seceded in dispatching six Sri Lankan to the pavilion for 152 runs. With Pakistan almost back into the game, the pressure was now mounting on Sri Lanka. The two teams were engaged in a thrilling battle between bat and the ball. With the excitement rising, the Pakistani fielders dropped some vital catches and let go quite a few fours.
With excitement mounting with every ball, it looked like more of a closely fought limited over game. In an atmosphere of tension and hope the Sri Lankans kept advancing towards the target, losing two more wickets in the process. The Pakistani bowlers having failed to demolish their inning, Sri Lanka eventually achieved the target of 220 runs, earning a well deserved victory. Despite defeat, the Pakistan team had demonstrated a heroic fight back. The highly exciting end to this match broke the myth of test matches being dull and boring.
Playing in the right spirit, they can be as exciting as one day internationals.
Pakistan vs Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka tour of Pakistan
Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium