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Younis made things happen

March 16, 2005 18:09 IST

IS it just me, or do you too think Younis Khan led Pakistan very well, taking over from a dehydrated Inzamam-ul Haq in the final session?

I know the party line is that Inzy is well liked by all players, that they give their best for him, that he is inspirational - and given my lack of familiarity with the Pakistan dressing room's ethos, I'll take all that as articles of faith.

But this morning and afternoon, Inzy was tentative, bordering on the downright defensive. Mohammad Khalil was just hitting his straps, making the ball kick off the deck and getting some movement off the seam, when Inzy opted - much like a Dracula-hunter pinning his faith on garlic to the exclusion of all else - to bring on his ace spinner as early as the 10th over, with a shiny new ball that would be hard to grip, and harder to tweak.

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Virender Sewhag and Gautam Gambhir, then Rahul Dravid, deconstructed the leg spinner in a hurry, and suddenly Pakistan looked like it was shorn of options.

Equally, the fields set for most of the morning session tended to be defensive, oriented to stop runs, not to stop batsmen in their tracks. Slip cordons rarely were populated by more than two men, much of the field remained spread out, permitting easy runs.

India's first 50 came off 79 deliveries, the second off just 61, as Inzy took his foot off the pedal and let the batsmen play pretty much any way they wanted to. For the most part, he had Kaneria wheel away at one end, while his seamers toiled in rotation at the other end - consider that of 30 overs bowled before lunch, Kaneria had sent down as much as 11; way too many for a leggie on the first morning of a Test.

In contrast, Younis Khan looked the part of a captain not content to let the opposition dictate the course of play. He rotated his bowlers, spin and swing alike, with sometimes astonishing rapidity; he changed Kaneria's end; he put men around the bat and in the batsman's face, he hustled his players and the opposition - and things happened.

It's debatable whether India lost four wickets in the final session due solely to these tactics - but the bottom line is, from a seemingly impregnable position, India lost part at least of the initiative in that last session that saw four wickets fall for 119 runs in 29.1 overs - and if fielding captains are blamed when batsmen dominate, perhaps they should be felicitated when their team fights its way back into the game?

 

HOW Danish Kaneria would bowl in the second Test, after having taken the psychological upper hand with his performance in the first, was a key point of debate before the game.

Maybe the question should have been, what will the Indian batsmen do to blunt Kaneria's edge?

Two batsmen provided answers, after their own fashion. Virender Sewhag used lovely footwork to get inside the line and drive or flick onto the on side against the turn; occasionally moving the other way to drive inside out, and when opportunity presented, to thump the ball straight and hard or lay back and play the cut, as late as he could. The result - 26 balls faced from the leggie, 28 runs scored (10 singles, 1 two, four 4s).

Dravid, though, was the real revelation. Today, he read the leggie like a champion, picking his variations with seeming ease, and always being perfectly positioned to play.

The Indian number three seemed to play to a plan. If the ball was on length and on off, he went well forward to defend. If it was the slightest bit overpitched, he moved into the flowing drives through mid on and midwicket. If the ball was outside line of off, he let it turn past him - and if it was the slightest bit short, he rocked back and repeatedly cut or square drove, time and again beating both point and the sweeper by varying the angle of his shots, and repeatedly finding the fence.

The two wagon wheels indicate how well their respective strategies worked. Sehwag scored 20 runs behind point, just ten in the arc between cover and mid-off, just two through mid off, 12 through mid-on, 25 through midwicket, and 12 behind square.

Dravid, in contrast, had 16 behind the wicket on the off, 39 runs including seven fours through point, one through mid off, 12 through mid on, 26 through midwicket, and 16 behind square.

Dravid's mastery was so pronounced that at one point, Kaneria resorted to going round the wicket and bowling well outside the right hander's leg stump when Dravid was on strike, reverting to over the wicket when Tendulkar squared up to him.

Thanks largely to the way these two batsmen played him, Kaneria on day one was nowhere near as effective as he was at Mohali - he sent down 158 deliveries, and had 115 runs taken off him.

Then again, he did take out Rahul Dravid to end the day's play, just when the batsman had his eye on stumps, and the prospect of coming out refreshed on day two to start all over again.

Virender Sehwag has got to be kicking himself with some vim, about now.

He was in touch; in the morning he batted with admirable restraint, waiting for the right ball to hit, seemingly intent on building towards a big innings.

And then, in the afternoon session, something seemed to snap. Memories, maybe, of the go slow on day three at Mohali, for which the team was deservedly pilloried, and a determination not to let it happen again?

Whatever the reason, his batting in the afternoon was the antithesis to his play in the morning - chancy, belligerent, and seemingly in an unholy rush to get wherever he was going.

Twice in one over, he swished at Afridi and was lucky to see under edges miss both stumps and keeper (one of those edges in fact qualifies as a chance - an extremely difficult one, but still a chance to the keeper). And in the next over, off Kaneria, he swiped, without ever getting close to the pitch - and gave Inzy a chance to demonstrate that not all Pakistan fielders have their fingers coated with Amul butter.

Inzy first tried running backwards to get under the ball, realized that wouldn't work, turned and ran while watching the ball come over his shoulder, and made a hard catch look relatively easy. Sehwag must have been cursing - umpteen chances in the first Test and no one to hold; one mistake here, and an opportunity to score big on a track made for him lost.

All told, it was one of those weird cricketing days - one team dominated for 72 overs, the lost the initiative inside a space of some 16 overs, losing 4 for 66 in that space.

That sets the game up nicely for tomorrow - Pakistan know that if they can bat reasonably well on a track that will remain batsmen-friendly for another day at the least, they have a chance to match India's score - and negate the advantage of India winning the toss.

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