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The Story of Two Pathans . . . 29 March 2005

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Howzzat!! (aka the 'Honourable Game').
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After the epic fightback at Mohali, Pakistan have pulled another rabbit out of the hat and actaully won the Bangalore Test . This performance definitely has shades of the 1987 Bangalore victory; whilst 1987 was probably the greatest Pakistani win of all time, the current one is special too – it was certainly achieved against greater odds and with a 'weaker' team. How many of us actually believed we could draw this series against India? Come on, be honest! :-)

Yes, this was a herculean team effort, and everyone, even Sami and Yasir Hameed, did their bit very well.. they are all heroes and deserve plaudits, but maybe, the real heroes of this match, apart from the obvious Inzamam, are two Pathans, with vastly different styles, approaches and mindsets: Younis Khan and Shahid Khan Afridi. One a sensible, level-headed, intelligent, hard-working vice-captain from Mardan…. the other a hot-headed, tempetuous, street-fighting die-hard from the Khyber Agency. One grew up in cosmopolitan Karachi, and is the team's glamour boy and its hearththrob, complete with the ludicrous hair-do… whilst the other has his roots in the harsh surrounds of the Frontier regions, still plays some of his domestic cricket in the Frontier and is almost as modest and self-effacing as Inzi; in short, a gentleman who plays the game as it should be played… definitely not a glamour boy!

But both played with great heart, achieving everything for their country, and outplaying India's best ever team in its own backyard. Credit also to Inzi and Woolmer, for allowing both of them to play the second Test. After the epic face-saving draw at Mohali, they could have opted to play it safe and continue with Butt, but they opted to bring in some fire-power in the shape of Afridi. They could also have given in to loud public pressure to drop YK after Mohali, but they stuck to their guns and look how handsomely they have been rewarded.

Afridi's bowling was excellent in patches in the two Tests he played, though ordinary at other times. On the fifth day though, he was as close to unplayable as you can get on a relatively benign track. In four innings during this series, he snapped up the biggest wicket of all, that of Sachin Tendulkar, three times. Alongwith the peerless Glenn McGrath, a certain Pathan from Karachi can now also rightly say that the world's greatest batsman is his bunny! He bowled with great intelligence, using his variety, and some clever deceptions…if only he batted with so much brains!

And so to his batting…well what can I say that has not been already said.. The only reason Pakistan made such an excellent start on Day 4, was thanks to that man Afridi. He really batted like no one else can, especially against the Indian pace bowlers. No one, not even Kumble, was shown any respect by the man from Karachi and Khyber, despite facing some very negative bowling. Pathan's first five overs went for 45; Balaji's three for 26. Ganguly had to try something different and so SRT was given the ball in the 11th over. Both Kumble and Tendulkar resorted to bowling leg spin aiming for the rough well outside the batsmen's legs, just to nullify the Afridi effect!

Well done Affers.

And Younis Khan… over 500 runs in the series, at an average in excess of 100! When was the last time one of our guys got 500 in one series, and that too in a three Test series? 350 runs in the last Test alone. 2 excellent catches on the very last day. 100% commitment in the field, every minute of every day. Excellent support to Inzi as the vice-captain. Great perspective on life, so not getting too serious about what is still just a game. Tremendous levels of fitness, to still be running so hard for singles when on 260 odd… staggering levels of stamina to appear to be the most agile fielder on the 5th day today, after he has been in the field for almost 29 hours!* Astonishing really, this man is more defatigueable than the Duracell bunny….

The complete team player too, happy to do whatever his team wants. Open? Yes sir, I will. Come in at number three? Of course. Bat at no.7 with the tail? Sure, why not. Field at first slip the whole day? With pleasure. Catch at short-leg? Would love to. Be the v/c and run the show with Inzi? For the team, yes. Keep wickets even though you are not a keeper? Yes, of course I would. YK, for me, personifies the team ethic, and has done for a while, but I was never convinced about his batting technique and longevity till now. It is a pleasure to see that finally he merits a place in the side as a batsman too! An FPC** without a doubt ….

Two cricketing heroes to salute today…!

* He was in the dressing room only for the first 6 mins and the last 2 mins of our first innings, and then the first 62 mins of our second innings. That makes 70 mins in the dressing room over the full five days, and so the remaining time, he was out there in the field for over 29 hours, giving 100%. Astonishing….

** Future Pakistan Captain


Is this finally a sign of better things to come? 13 March 2005

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Howzzat!! (aka the 'Honourable Game').
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So Pakistan have achieved what we all thought was impossible, and managed to draw the first Test at Chandigarh/Mohali (scorecard). Sure, we may not win the current series, or even another Test, but this one draw feels better than many of the wins we have had, and that is purely due to the manner in which parity was achieved.

For the first time in a long, long while, the Pakistan team has finally shown some fight, some backbone during this Test. Of course, the greatest exhibition of this fightback was the much maligned Mr. Abdul Razzaq – perhaps the only guy from either side who totally curbed his natural game, in fact went against every single instinct in his body, his mind and his soul, and exhibited monastic abstinence. Eventually, Abdul Razzaq's marathon effort was worth more than many a Test hundred and double hundred. He ended up facing more deliveries than anyone else from either side in the whole Test, even Sehwag, Tendulkar, Inzi or Dravid.

But the fightback was by no means a one-man show. It was epitomised and personified by Razzy, yes, but it was a team-effort, and everyone, or almost everyone at least, contributed manfully, led by the brilliance of Kamran Akmal on Saturday (Day 5). In fact, yesterdday's (Day 5's) fightback was made possible first and foremost by the resolute displays in the field on Day 3. Make no mistake about it; Pakistan came back strongly on that day after Sehwag's dismissal, and hence I believe it is incorrect to say we played well on one out of five days only – we had two good days, and three relatively poor ones.

According to most journalists covering the match, Day 3 belonged to Pakistan. We were seriously under the cosh after Day 2, but to come back with grit in the second part of Day 3, and take 5 wickets for 265 runs over the three sessions, was pretty good. Showed that the boys could bounce back; Inzamam provided indications that he could act interested on the field sometimes, instead of his usual lethargy; the pacers, Sami in particular, showed they can learn, and wonder of wonders, actually bowl to a field! Woolmer showed that his laptop is not just for visiting dubious websites, and he can actually perform meaningful analysis through it; to be fair, I am sure he performs meaningful analysis everyday, but today, the analysis was actually implemented by Inzi, Sami, Kaneria and others.

After the lunch on Day 3, Pakistan were able to completely dry up India's scoring, so much so that India made only 129 runs in the 60 overs between lunch and close of play. This at a stage when India were right on top, Pakistan's backs were to the wall and there could be only one winner in the Test! For Pakistan to have fought back so strongly, when they restricted India to 59 runs from 29 overs in the afternoon session, was remarkable, and not something I was expecting.

This is the significance of that display in the field; it was so unexpected, and so out of character, if we keep in mind our repeated failures of the past 6-7 years. After the mauling on Day 2 from Sehwag and Gambhir, we were all fearing more of the same, similar to Multan and Pindi last year, when India went in front and drove home the advantage. But did Pakistan wave the white flag on Day 3, as we were all expecting? Did they surrender tamely? Heck, no! This time around, Inzi, Woolmer and the boys actually showed some spirit, some pride in wearing the star, and a lot of common sense in the field.

The greatest Pakistan teams, of 1987/88, and of 1992, were great not due to the galaxy of stars they had – the 1987/88 side, to my mind our best ever, did not have that many stars, but had an enviable team ethic. In its professionalism, its fighting spirit, and its never-say-die attitude, that team is unique amongst all sub-continental cricket teams, heads and shoulders above anything else from these shores. Do the twin fightbacks of Day 3, and then Day 5, mean we have finally found some spine, some fightback, the ability to play as a team? We shall see!

Of course, it is quite possible for Pakistan to have at least one staggering batting collapse in their remaining four innings in the series, where the whole team spectacularly self-implodes for 100 or 150 or 200. But maybe, just maybe, this Test was a turning point, a sign of better things to come, a watershed in post-Imran Khan Pakistan? I am not talking about winning meaningless ODIs, or one-off Test wins off the back of Shoaib's or Kaneria's heroics with the ball. I am talking about a team, beginning to finally fight and work as a team, and make the most of its limited talents. We all know that for the past 6-7 years, both our bowling and batting have been at their weakest ever, but if we begin to play as a team, and have some backbone, some fight to our game, all of us would be happier, I am sure!

This draw actually makes me happier than the last four ODI wins over India combined, as it shows we actually have some fighting spirit… after a loong loong while, the team played like Imran's cornered tigers and exhibited some pride, and a never-say-die attitude!

I was certainly not expecting Saturday's epic events, and the fantastic rearguard action. I am as delighted as everyone else here, so well done boys…. now let's see whether this is a new beginning, or yet another false dawn!