Shoaib's return to form the cream for Pak

Written by: Rashid Latif
Published: Friday, April 9, 2004, 11:56 [IST]
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Rahul Dravid gave Pakistan a gift in the mouth by electing to bat first on a greenish Lahore wicket. India were sitting on a 1-0 lead in the series and the next thing you notice is that Indians have allowed Pakistan to literally lift themselves up from the floor. If I was Dravid, I would have never allowed a down-and-out team to recover its poise and be in a position to sting us back. Pakistan were beneficiary of Dravid's largesse.

Dravid might have been influenced by the fact there was grass on the pitch and it meant it couldn't have been rolled out well. It implied a pitch of variable bounce on the fourth and fifth day, given the hot conditions in Lahore. The Indians didn't reckon the match was unlikely to last till the fifth day. The fourth innings was unlikely to be a factor in this game.

Pakistan tried four new players and all of them left their mark. Umar Gul bowled a match-winning spell, Kamran Akmal showed what a difference a vibrant wicketkeeper can make to the team, Danish Kaneria left his mark in whatever little overs he was provided with and Asim Kamal clearly looked a better organized and technically sound batsman than anyone else in this game.

These are difficult times for Kamal since his father is on dialysis and he confided in me before the Test he wasn't sure he would be picked for the game. But fortune has started to smile on him.

The icing on the cake was the return to form of Shoaib Akhtar. He put in a far improved show and he targeted batsmen with short-pitched deliveries rising to their chest. Pakistan seems to have sorted out their problems in the nick of time.

India, on the other hand, must be left wondering if Pakistan has at last detected a weakness in the imposing Sachin Tendulkar. I wrote in my first column that Pakistan would try to bring the ball in sharply from a good length to Tendulkar since he doesn't have a long stride and can leave a gap in his bat and pad.

That's exactly what happened in both the innings at Lahore. Tendulkar fell leg before to deliveries that cut in sharply to him. It's a peculiar problem with players who have bottom-hand grip like Tendulkar, or for that matter Sehwag, has in Indian camp.

A strong bottom-hand grip will restrict your reach but that's not the case for batsmen who play with a strong top hand. They are also likely to leave a gap between bat and pad. The good thing for Pakistan was that they could pick Tendulkar before the little master had settled down. If he had taken roots at the wicket, such ploys might not have mattered.

I have been a great fan of Yuvraj Singh and he only grew in stature in my view with his innings in this game. But I am surprised at the comments of Sourav Ganguly before he returned to Pakistan. He openly spoke in favour of Yuvraj for the Rawalpindi Test that must have put pressure on young Aakash Chopra ahead of the second innings.

With the match so critically poised, Ganguly was better off in keeping his opinion to himself. It must not have been good for Chopra and certainly not for India.

Indians are bound to come down hard on umpires and rightly so. In Multan, two batsmen who got the rough end of the decision were Inzamam-ul-Haq and Yousuf Youhana. In Lahore, the two were the direct beneficiary.

It doesn't help the game when clear-cut catches or played leg before decisions are given. There is a need for increased involvement of third umpire and technology in this game. A close look at recent games show that quite a few of them have been ruined by poor umpiring. Most of the time such poor decisions are deciding the outcome of a match.

Imran Farhaat played a brilliant innings and he reminds me so much of Saeed Anwar. Taufeeq Umar is a far better player than he has been in this series. He has been unusually defensive and it could be because of pressure. Let us not forget, there are so many young openers -- Farhat, Yasir Hameed and Imran Nazir -- in the present squad. Inzamam as ever looks a batsman in sublime form.

I was disappointed with the form of Anil Kumble. He didn't bowl as well as he did in Multan. He bowled too much on the leg stump to Inzamam and he wasn't consistent with his length also. But two men who built on their Multan performance were Irfan Pathan and Virender Sehwag.

Pathan looks a genuine article. I was just not happy with the way he bowled the new ball. Bowling four maiden overs is alright but he should have bowled at least a feet ahead than he did. He should have made batsmen come forward all the time.

Then you have Sehwag who is said to have no technique. But he has the technique of mind and sometimes that's an important ingredient. In his success, there is a message for the rest of the Indian batsmen.

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