| Lakshmipathy Balaji celebrates the dismissal of Kamran Akmal in Rawalpindi on Tuesday
Rawalpindi: That Pakistan couldn’t survive the opening day was definitely the highlight at the Pindi Cricket Stadium, but no less a talking point was Sourav Ganguly’s decision to promote Parthiv Patel despite announcing either he or Yuvraj Singh would open with Virender Sehwag.
“Yuvraj would have, but the change was effected at tea... After a rethink, it was decided not to expose him to the new ball,” explained the Team India captain during a chat with The Telegraph at the Marriott in Islamabad on Tuesday evening.
Thus far, that hasn’t backfired as Parthiv survived the 65 minutes till delayed stumps. Ironically, it’s regular Sehwag who fell on the first (Shoaib Akhtar) delivery, brilliantly taken by Yasir Hameed.
Of course, opening isn’t something new for Parthiv — 17 months ago, he did exactly that in the second innings at Hamilton (with Sanjay Bangar) when everybody’s confidence was at rock-bottom. He didn’t get off the mark, though.
This time, Parthiv has and, if he comes good, Yuvraj may not have to worry about planning for a career as opener. “Of all the ‘contenders’, Parthiv is the one with the most enthusiasm... To open, you’ve got to be keen... Parthiv certainly is,” is how a member of the team management, who didn’t wish to be identified, put it.
With the series 1-1, India needed an exceptional Day I to take a headstart in the decider. Winning the toss was excellent and, save the 70-run partnership for the ninth-wicket between top-scorer Mohammed Sami and Fazle Akbar, Pakistan weren’t in the frame on a greentop which encouraged considerable lateral movement.
Irfan Pathan and Lakshmipathy Balaji didn’t have an incisive first spell, but the latter got the breakthrough in his second. At the other end, comeback man Ashish Nehra — who moved the ball both ways and was quick — struck as well. Pathan wasn’t to be left behind and, by lunch, Pakistan crashed to 96 for four.
Actually, it was a repeat of India’s awful show on the opening day of the Gaddafi Test.
The Pakistan innings ended 82 minutes after tea, with Balaji returning career-best figures: four for 63. Incidentally, given the conditions, Anil Kumble was brought on as late as the 51st over — rather unusual for the leggie. Somewhat unusual too for the quicks to get nine wickets.
Speaking exclusively, Balaji said he was disappointed on two counts — not finishing off the tail, early in the afternoon, and not taking the fifth wicket. “I should have done better... And, at the start, ought to have been consistent with the line and length.... Still, I’ve gained in confidence and should do better in the next innings.”
Balaji has limitations, yes, but can’t be faulted for his attitude.
Expectedly, Sourav is mighty pleased — and a bit relieved — with the bottomline.
“It would have been great had we bowled Pakistan out for 170-175 but, then, restricting them to 224 is no small achievement. I’m happy the decision to field got vindicated... From here on, it’s all about consolidating...”
That being the priority, India have the best man at the wicket: Vice-captain Rahul Dravid. If the law of averages tripped Sehwag, that very law ought now to work in Dravid’s favour. We will, then, be in business in an even bigger way.