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Pakistan serve another run-feast on final day

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January 25, 2006 17:49 IST


Sometime later in the day or maybe even tomorrow (you have to give the poor guys time -- there's so much to collate) the statisticians who work for various papers and sites including will give you a laundry list of all the records broken in this Test: The most sixes in a Test, the most number of runs ever scored in a Test in Pakistan, the most number of bowlers to attempt suicide in a match…

Okay, on the last one, I was joking.

Above all those runs and records piled up, individually and collectively, in a game that was pointless from the moment the first ball was bowled, one fact for me underlined just how futile even the players thought it all was. That point came shortly after tea, when Mohammad Yousuf, who had seen both Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid drop him and even been reprieved by the umpire on a plumb LBW, finally discovered the one foolproof way of getting out, by being short of his ground on a needless run – like, what, there wasn't enough on the board already?

All day, the scoreboard showed Shahid Afridi as coming in at the fall of the third wicket. All day, the crowds alternated between cheering Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan, and almost pleading with them to get out so they could watch Afridi bat. And yet, when the wicket finally fell after the two had batted through the entire afternoon session, Afridi chose not to come out, and Abdur Razzaq came out instead to get some net practice.

As it turned out, with just under nine overs remaining before the start of the mandatory over phase provided the two captains and the umpire an excuse to practice legally-sanctioned euthanasia on this game, Razzaq managed to chase a wide delivery into the lap of VVS Laxman at slip. Afridi walked out, swung, missed, swung, touched through to the keeper, and got a celebratory send-off from the Indians – to bring Mohammad Asif into play, and more to the point, to send spectators by the hundreds streaming out of the stadium.

You guys probably expect a proper match report. Fooled you – I am not doing one here, not today. You can't do a 'match report' where there is no match – in fact, this was so much of a no-match that after 108 overs with the first ball that yielded 448 runs for the loss of three wickets, Mahendra Singh Dhoni handed over his pads to skipper Rahul Dravid, and took the new ball (and for the record, did a fair approximation of a seam bowler, both in his run up and with his deliveries that touched the 121 kmph mark). And just to rub it in, Yuvraj Singh shared the new ball with his wicket-keeper. (Late into the evening, the Pakistanis were to respond by giving the new ball to Shahid Afridi and Younis Khan).

The best you could say of all this was that the Indian team, which remarkably kept up its intensity level during the morning and afternoon sessions, finally had enough and discovered an inventive way to underline how pointless they thought it all was. To the credit of the Indians, they immediately switched back to their regular bowlers after one over each from those two, and brought their intensity levels back up; it was in fact remarkable that knowing the game was going absolutely nowhere, the Indian seamers kept steaming in and kept up their pace, their direction, and their focus.

And that cues in the query that deserves asking – what was the idea behind these two wickets anyway?

Okay, the first pitch, in Lahore, they said the weather had been horrible; that there was no real time to prepare the wicket; that had the sun shone down during the course of the Test, the wicket would have hardened and started taking turn and bounce and stuff.

What then of Faisalabad? Head curator Agha Zahid was "rushed down" to ensure a result-oriented pitch, remember? Grass was rolled in, remember? The wicket was hard and abrasive, factors that would definitely help reverse swing, remember? And if the sun bore down during the course of the game, then the wicket would begin aiding turn and provide bounce, remember?

The weather stayed good through the course of the game; in fact, on days four and five, the weather was so good you saw even people in the stands doing away with their winter gear. And yet, in the last over of this Test as in the first, there was nothing in it for bowlers of any time except frustration and heartbreak.

Much will be said of "psychological points" earned – by India which, for the second time in two Tests came out chasing a mountain and refused to buckle; by Pakistan that, in the second innings as in the first, ground the visiting bowlers into the pitiless dust of Faisalabad without even thinking of a declaration; by Younis Khan, who managed to get to another innings of 190 or more and maintain the personal ascendancy over the Indian bowling attack he had begun in the second Test of Pakistan's last tour of India…

None of those "points" amount to a hill of beans, because bowlers on both sides will go away knowing that they could have hurled hand grenades on this track without even tail end batsmen turning a hair.

And here's where it really begins to get funny – on day three of this Test, we were told that chief curator Agha Zahid had been "rushed" to Karachi to make sure of a fast, grassy, result-oriented pitch. Please, people – pull the other one. You don't have to have gone to curator-college to know that there is no way to ensure any such thing in a week's time or less. Whatever the character of these three pitches, they had been decided before this series started; the appropriate instructions had to have been given at least a fortnight, more likely a month, ahead of the Tests – because that is the time curators are given to work on a deck. And that is why the last minute "rushing down" of the head curator and the famous rolling of grass onto the Faisalabad strip made absolutely no difference to its pre-determined character.

You can fiddle with pitches at the last minute; you can damp it down some, slow it down by removing grass and over-watering, or make it crumble by watering the hell out of it for a couple of days and then baking it silly in the sun. But there's no way you can expect a curator to make a fast pitch on three, four days notice.

So that, again, brings you back to the question – what was the point? Was it to insure – probably through series sponsors Allianz? – against the remotest possibility of the home team suffering a defeat at home against the visitors, given that defeat in an India-Pakistan series, for some reason I still have not been able to fathom, is treated as a national calamity that exceeds on the Richter Scale the shock value of a lost war?
There has to be a reason – I mean, even madness has method. Darned if I can find it though – maybe Karachi will provide answers. Then again, maybe not. It seems a pity, though, that in a decade where international cricket is increasingly – mercifully – all but eliminating draws from its repertoire, this series thus far has been played out on tracks where you could double the duration and still fail to find a result.

One final word – and that is one of praise for Zaheer Khan. He has had his problems, both physical and attitudinal; he worked his way out of the first and, if the evidence of this Test is any indication, also out of the second. Given a chance for rehabilitation, he seized it with both hands, batting in a fashion that brought his coach to his feet in fulsome applause and, on a heartbreaking final evening, bowling with all the fire and intensity of his first over of the Test, to knock over three of the four wickets Pakistan in the space of 16 deliveries in a mindless final hour and bring the Pakistan innings to a premature close on 490/8 (By the way, how many "psychological points" does that rate?).

This, from a man notoriously prone to losing heart and stepping off the gas even in more friendly conditions, when he found things not going his way, is remarkable transformation that cannot be over-praised.

Report on the morning session here.

Prem Panicker