Rediff Logo Cricket
June 5, 1999

Sections NEWS

send this report to a friend

That man again!

Prem Panicker

It was all about passion versus steely cold nerve; flair versus hardnosed professionalism.

The side with the flair provided the electricity, the professional outfit won at the end. Fair enough?

You really have to put your hands together for the Proteas on this one -- all but blown away by a fast bowling blitz at the top, they gritted it through, never bothered their heads about the run rates and such that get the commentators all hyped up, paced the chase to a nicety and pulled it off in style. A brilliant win, and South Africa with four on the points table pull back to parity with Pakistan at the end of a cliffhanger.

Wasim Akram won the toss and elected to bat, bringing in Wasti for Afridi, and Youhanna, whose hamstring had kept him out for a couple of games, back for Salim Malik.

Pakistan started quietly, looking to ride out the early overs and Jonty Rhodes, of all people, helped them when he put down a reasonably -- we are talking Jonty here, remember -- straightforward catch at point off Anwar's bat in the 6th over.

Kallis in particular helped things along for Pakistan with some very wayward stuff, seemingly unable to stick to one side of the wicket, and giving away wides both on the leg and on the off. Pollock was on line and length without being incisive, and Pakistan seemed to be sitting pretty at 35 in 10, without loss.

And then for no reason you could pin down, they lost the plot. Pakistan appears to have decided that they are going to play slow as you please in the first 40 overs and back their big hitters to put a lot on the board at the very end -- a ploy that was always going to cost them dearly at some point, and it so happened that today was the day.

Steve Elworthy and Allan Donald, in tandem, were the ones who pegged Pakistan back. Donald produced a superb spell, including two maidens on the trot with a stream of brilliant yorkers -- till I saw this spell, I didn't realise you could bring in quite so many pace variations for the yorker. Elworthy meanwhile is a revelation. Not as pacy as his peers, not possessed of as many variations, he is content to the quiet workhorse, concentrating on length and line and making it damn near impossible to hit him off the square.

And the pressure the others put on means that batsmen tend to go after him, with fatal consequences. Anwar pushed airily away from his body and was taken behind, to set things going. Donald then turned it on, a superb yorker having Wasti scrambling, then producing, next up, a perfect ball just on length outside off, Wasti left with no choice but to play at it, the ball doing just enough to take the edge through to the keeper. It was bowling reminiscent of McGrath against the Indians the day before, and underlined yet again the value of keeping a very full length and drawing the batsman forward in these conditions.

Wasti appeared tentative at the wicket, and consumed a whole lot of deliveries for his 17 runs -- one factor that was going to have a bearing on the ultimate result. In between overs 11-20, Pakistan managed 29 runs for two wickets -- and good though the bowling was, Pakistan was responsible for its own plight because the batsmen made no effort to work the ball around and thereby force the bowlers to change their line.

Abdul Razzaq has been pushed up to three by the Pakistan think tank. Ostensibly a hard-hitting batsman, he has apparently been given the job of ensuring against a collapse -- which is fine, but the problem with Razzaq is that his idea of anchoring takes no account of the number of overs bowled. Thus, he was still 'anchoring' for all he was worth, in the 30th over. At that point, Pakistan had only got to 102, which meant that a mere 67 runs had come off the last 20 overs.

That put the pressure on the batsmen, Razzaq succumbed, suddenly tried to up gears and fell to a huge heave at Elworthy that put the ball in the air and down the throat of the fielder at midwicket.

Elworthy around this point finished an outstanding spell of 10-2-23-2. And Pakistan, who when they went in to bat first should have been aiming for 250 plus, were on the back foot at this stage of the game.

Ijaz Ahmed had all along been looking to hit the ball around, and with equal parts luck and good judgement, had managed to keep the runs coming. Needing to accelerate, he put one foot down the track and flicked Klusener high over the midwicket fence, and a brilliant bit of bowling by the same bowler took him out the next ball. Klusener put one on a full length, the slower ball this time, Ijaz was committed to drive, got it in the air and Cullinan produced an outstanding catch at cover.

Pakistan struggled along to 118/4 in 35, having made just 83 for the loss of four in 25 overs after the first ten. Credit, here, to good, steady bowling backed by outstanding fielding by the Proteas, who demonstrated that even ordinary bowling (and both Pollock and Kallis on the day were ordinary) could be made to look unplayable by tight fielding.

Inzamam's running between wickets in this tournament has been a nightmare -- but his dismisal today as completely unpardonable. It was an easy run, the ball being pushed wide of Rhodes at point. The fielder raced in, fielded, threw down the stumps -- but at that time, Inzamam was in by a foot and a half. Only, he was running nice and erect, his bat held out in front of him like a blind man's walking stick, the batsman apparently unaware of the need to ground the darn thing. That kind of blunder from a player of his experience goes beyond being funny, frankly, and Pakistan (at this point, they had 10 run outs in the tournament) will need to address this problem in a hurry.

Pakistan made it to the 40 over mark with 139/5 on the board. Youhanna, around this period, had aggravated his hamstring injury and called for a runner -- and the South Africans, it needs mentioning, were pretty gracious in permitting him one. Technically, since the injury had kept him out of the team for the last game, it didn't qualify as an injury sustained during the game and that in turn meant that he could be denied the runner, a point Cronje didn't push.

As it turned out, it made little difference -- Ijaz, who before this game had 58 run outs to his credit (he being the victim 15 of those times, his partner being the unfortunate one on the other occasions) was unaccountably asked to run for him, and true to form, Ijaz set off for a run that fraction too late and failed to make his ground.

Moin Khan saved the Pakistan side some severe embarassment, with an outstanding cameo of 63 off 56, his assault on Donald being particularly memorable. His improvisation puts him, in my book at least, ahead of Bevan and on par with Jadeja as among the best finishers in the business, and it was on view here as he repeatedly stepped well across to off and flicked behind square for a stream of sixes and fours.

That cameo came to a spectacular end as Moin whacked one to wide mid off and pushed for a second. Cronje rifled a throw back, wide of the stumps. Boucher took it a good five yards away from the leg stump, and did brilliantly to lunge across and flick the bail off.

Azhar Mahmood batted well at the end, but Pakistan managed just 220 in their 50 and when you look at their card, you realise that players who can score quick, like Azhar and Akram, managed only to face 18 balls between them -- which underlines the point made earlier, about how the top and middle order have consistently wasted the middle overs through this tournament.

Pakistan began with a brilliant burst from Saeed Akthar, bowling as quick as possible. By way of aside, though, a rather amusing point about this whole pace thing strikes me. Akthar, with the speed guns turned on and pushing for top pace, was timed at a top speed of 95 mph. Great stuff that. But hey, Srinath was timed 94mph yesterday -- so how come he is rarely referred to as a quick bowler?

That apart, Akthar terrorised Gibbs into giving away his wicket. The batsman refused to move his feet, seemingly expecting the worst with every ball, and ended up pushing well away from his body at a ball outside off, and giving point an easy take.

Strangely, South Africa chose to send Cronje in at three. The captain leading from the front and all that, fine, but Cronje is a great player in the middle but not the man you want to see playing real pace, so the promotion came as a bit of a surprise. Akthar took him out with a ball short and lifting, Cronje slashed, a fair enough shot in the circumstances as he was looking to play it on the up over the slips, but the catch was there was a wide third man in place, and Saqlain, the fielder in question, took it bang on the line.

Kirsten fell to bad judgement. Akram swung one in, from just outside off, the ball pitched on line of the stumps and Kirsten, with his front foot pushed across, took his bat out of the line, not offering a shot and was adjudged plumb in front. Another failure for the Protean opener, who on this tour hasn't been in the kind of touch his team would want him to be in.

Darryl Cullinan handled Akthar with the greatest ease thus far in the innings, deciding late whether to go forward or back, moving decisively and getting right into line of everything. The early strikes, though, pushed the ask up above five an over and Cullinan apparently decided that something needed to be done about it. Azhar Mahmood bowled him one wide of off, Cullinan chased it, flat batted a drive and Anwar, who got it straight at him at cover, saw the ball pop out, then dived, recovered and held. A simple catch made difficult but to Anwar's credit, he kept his eye on it right through and didn't panic.

South Africa seemed to get further into the hole when Jonty Rhodes flicked across the line at a ball on the stumps and went, LBW. 58/5 in the 20th, and it seemed all over.

However, unnoticed, Kallis was slowly playing himself in at one end. He started tentative and ill at ease, but concentrated on playing almost entirely off the back foot, playing the ball as late as he possibly could to cover for the movement the Pakistan bowlers, without exception, were getting under a heavy cloud umbrella.

Pollock hasn't done much in this tournament to justify the premier all rounder tag, but here he produced the goods just when it was needed. Like Kallis, he scarcely seemed to worry about the mounting asking rate, preferring rather to play each ball on merit, looking for the singles at every opportunity and just keeping the tins ticking over.

Good strategy, for the longer the partnership lasted and the more runs they scored, at whatever pace, it meant that much less for the big hitters to get at the death. Pollock finally fell pushing at one outside off stump, the attempt to run it down to third man coming to grief as the ball went off the edge to Inzamam at slip.

He had, however, done his bit. Kallis around this point made a miscalculation, when rather than look for singles and give Klusener the strike, he attempted to do it on his own, took a huge heave at Saqlain and Moin, running a good distance back, took the top edged skier.

At that point, the innings was into the 45th over, and South Africa were on 176. The perfect platform for a nervless big-hitter confident of his own form and backing himself against anything on two legs, and Klusener stepped up to the plate and delivered in style.

Shoaib Akthar, the man who set it up for Pakistan, ironically proved to be the one who gave it away. In the 44th over, the fading light caused the umpires to call for a ball change. Neither Akram nor Akthar were particularly pleased, the latter slamming the ball into the ground in disgust (one of these days, the guy is going to get hauled up for violating the code). Akthar took his anger out on Kallis, bowling a bouncer that went through for four byes (how clever was that, anyway? A no ball for height and four byes as well, five costly runs merely to register his protest?), then got into a slanging match with Kallis, the obscenities quite clearly audible at this point.

In the next over, he went after Klusener. When the need was to bowl the yorker length, he went the macho way, pitching short time and again. A top edge for four to third man, a vicious pull that put the ball out of the ground, another ball that screamed off the pad to the fine leg fence -- 17 came in the 46th and Akthar found the ball disappearing faster than he could bowl it. Ironically, in that over he twice beat the bat, both times with the slower ball, but the message didn't get across to the pumped up bowler.

Sheer pace is exhilirating, sure. But at the fag end of an innings, muscle needs to make way for brains, and Akthar's refusal to learn that lesson eventually cost Pakistan the game. Klusener, on a roll, then went after Akram, reading his slower ball to perfection and blasting him over wide long on, then pulling Saqlain (who had a very ordinary day with the ball) for six over midwicket as that bowler, to deny Klusener the length to lift straight, pitched way too short.

The innings ended in a farcical fashion, Klusener heaving at the last ball of the 49th, putting the ball so high it was in danger of serious oxygen deprivation. Anwar at mid off had all the time in the world to get under it -- and he dropped the catch. As that ball went up, SA needed two to win. By the time Anwar saw it go through his hands, Boucher (who had chipped in with a clubbed six off Saqlain) and Klusener had crossed twice, and it was all over.

If there was a contributing reason for Pakistan's defeat, it lay in the extras. Akram and his bowlers make a point of not worrying about these things, the argument being that wickets compensate for the wides and no balls as the bowlers go flat out.

Maybe. But against a professional side like the Proteas, if you have only 220 on the board and give away 27 runs by way of wides and extras, that is asking for trouble -- and it, coupled with Akthar's needless machismo at the death, cost Pakistan dear.

Meanwhile, put it together for Klusener -- the man is absolutely nerveless and for sheer bravado, today's innings is up there with the very best. South Africa, as a result, are back on par with the tournament leaders, and over whatever psychological damage they suffered in course of that defeat against Zimbabwe.

Commentary Transcript


 Name: Email:
 Post a message: