| A crestfallen Shoaib Akhtar after India’s victory on Sunday
Lahore: John Wright has always backed this youngster for his attitude and doggedness. Mohammed Kaif’s performance before Sunday, however, didn’t evoke any praise. Rather, there have been whispers that if he failed again, it could be the end of the road for him.
There hadn’t been any memorable innings from him after the NatWest Trophy final, but at the Gaddafi Sunday he paired successfully with Rahul Dravid to bring off the five-wicket victory. Wednesday’s match will now decide the series after being levelled 2-2.
Quite rightly, the winning run flowed from Kaif’s bat.
For Dravid, it wasn’t anything unusual. He has got used to this burden of carrying the team on his shoulders. Once again it was another sensible knock that combined aggression with caution.
“I wouldn’t have got those runs without Kaif. He’s an amazing athlete,” Dravid later said.
The pair added 132 in 130 balls in a unbroken sixth wicket stand, Dravid contributing an unbeaten 76 off 92 balls and Kaif not out on 71 (77 balls, 8x4).
But raw pace could have proved lethal. Ask the Indian batsmen and they will testify.
Shoaib Akhtar in his own inimitable style laid the famed Indian batting line-up low at the start. The pace and bounce he generated was disturbing and inspired awe.
His five-over opening burst first removed Sachin Tendulkar, caught off the inside edge, and then rattled V.V.S. Laxman’s timber. The batsmen flinched in the face of pace and their confidence looked shattered. It was only after he was removed from the attack that the Indians managed to breathe with slight ease. His two later spells had no effect.
Despite the reversals, India managed to maintain the steady flow of runs. Virender Sehwag had set the trend with 26 off 29 balls and Sourav Ganguly (21 off 15 balls) and Yuvraj Singh (36 off 35 balls) consolidated. The skipper’s innings included a six over gully, a slash off Mohammed Sami landing way beyond the ropes.
Yuvraj then added 68 in 66 balls with Dravid for the fifth wicket. As Kaif joined Dravid, it was just a matter of sticking around. They never took any undue risk and the mere pushes and the odd boundary that flowed clinched it for India.
Shoaib was dangerous, but Shabbir Ahmed and Sami, in an effort to emulate him, ended up being erratic. The Indians did not let go the opportunity.
The Indians gave away at least 30 extra runs in the last ten overs. Pakistan reaped the benefits of a wayward attack and plundered as many as 95 during that period.
It seemed the Indian bowlers were determined to make amends at the outset. Irfan Pathan and Laxmipathy Balaji were steady, the former’s nagging off-stump line and angled deliveries putting the batsmen into trouble. Pathan’s seven-over first spell cost only 22 during which he removed Shahid Afridi and Yusuf Youhana.
Zaheer Khan also bowled with discipline and responsibility after a long while. He never allowed the batsmen that extra width and the fuller length he bowled made the batsman’s task difficult.
The wicket was assisting seam movement and the pacers did well to exploit that. It was only when Inzamam-ul Haq dictated terms that the runs flowed.
Sadly, Inzamam’s tenth career hundred and second in this series was for a losing cause yet again. He cleverly avoided harakiri and played according to the demands. The big amount of time he gets to play his shots is because his quicksilver footwork makes the task easier.
There is no grandeur in him and no gesture, either, only the substance of the committed. The Pakistan skipper seemed alive with the challenge of the moment as he walked in at 39 for two. He seems to enjoy the surge that pressure brings in such high-intensity clashes. The 123 came off 121 balls and included nine boundaries and four sixes.
The spinners’ ineffectiveness had been the talking point after the first three games. Murali Kartik who replaced Ramesh Powar, bowled an unchanged spell. Sticking to the basics of line and length helped him earn two wickets. Taking risks against the left-arm spinner always proved suicidal, as Yasir Hameed and Younis Khan will say.
Sachin Tendulkar had practised more with the ball during nets last evening. Aware of the task of having to complete the fifth bowler’s job, he thought it wise to set things in order. Sourav felt that Sachin was performance-wise the side’s best spinner on this tour. Sachin’s perseverance with the ball paid off once more though a few lusty hits later spoilt his overall figures.
Inzamam and Abdul Razzaq were mainly responsible for the acceleration in the death overs.
Razzaq was merciless as he hammered 32 off 22 deliveries while the skipper elegantly pierced the field with consummate ease.