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May 16, 2001

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Superlative Inzamam sees no reason to sweat

Tony Lawrence

Inzamam-ul-Haq is a man worthy of superlatives.

He is -- arguably -- the world's top current batsman.

He is -- indisputably -- the worst runner between the wickets, perhaps even in the history of the game.

Pakistan will hope he demonstrates the first point at Lord's this week, in the first Test against England. The home team would rather he illustrate the second.

Inzamam-ul-Haq Recent history suggests that the 31-year-old Inzamam, possibly the biggest, least athletic playing the game at the very top level, will produce another batting master-class.

Inzamam has scored a century in each of his last six Test series. Pakistan managed to win just one of those series and lose four but no blame could be attached to the ample cornerstone of their batting.

In February in New Zealand he averaged 51.66. At home against England at the end of last year, it was 60.60, preceded in turn by 59.56 in Sri Lanka, 59 against West Indies, 71 at home to the Sri Lankans and 43.33 in Australia.

It is a consistency without equal, out of the reach even of India's celebrated Sachin Tendulkar.

It has also been achieved with the minimum of hard work.

Inzamam's inclination to steal a nap in a deckchair while his team mates go through their fielding drills is well documented.

All heroes, of course, must have a fatal flaw.

Inzamam's seems to be indecision. That and the turning speed of a tanker.

When the times comes to set off for a sharp single, he seems to be blighted with such doubt and confusion that he and his wild-eyed partner inevitably end up together at one end.

Ironically, however, it is a village-green weakness which has inspired even more affection among his supporters, if not among his team mates.

He turned the 1999 World Cup into pure pantomime at times, his every innings alive with comic possibility as one partner after another was run out while Inzamam survived at the other end.

He earned grudging forgiveness by regularly going on to score the runs needed to take Pakistan all the way to the final.

Former Pakistan captain Imran Khan said: "Inzamam is such a wonderful batsman to watch but he must be a nightmare to bat with ... (it) looks as if he does not know what he is doing half the time.

"His running between the wickets is appalling. Inzamam does not appear to grab even the basics of running and calling."

His delighted fans, however, saw the funny side, coining the chant of "Run, Inzy, run!"

Inzamam appreciated the joke.

"I never took it as derogatory or an insult," he laughs. "I can run faster than anyone. Anyway, it's the batsmen at the non-striker's end who make the mistakes, not me."

He is, indeed, a hard man to rile, although one person has managed it.

A spectator armed with a loudhailer at a one-day international in Toronto gave Inzamam the immortal sobriquet of "aloo", or potato and so incensed the big man that he waded into the crowd, swinging a bat in pursuit of his tormentor, before he was pulled away.

Inzamam, who is also a fine slip fielder, has yet to show any form since arriving with the squad in England almost two weeks ago, with 18 runs in his first visit to the crease and 13 in the second.

But neither Pakistan nor Inzamam himself are breaking into a sweat.

"I'm not new to English conditions, I know I have a responsibility as an anchor man," he says. "Test matches aren't the same as warm-up games, they're different."

Team coach Richard Pybus adds: "They are experienced Test players and guys like Inzy know when to turn it on.

"I don't think he has got any concerns himself."

He rarely has.

Mail Cricket Editor

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