| Shahid Afridi in Lahore on Saturday
Lahore: After excellent centuries from Younis Khan and Mohammed Yousuf, it was left to Shahid Afridi and (quite unbelievably) Kamran Akmal to explode. They tore Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh’s reputation to pieces as Pakistan raced to 679 for seven before Inzamam-ul Haq ended Team India’s misery with the declaration.
With there being no performer for the second day in a row, coach Greg Chappell again took queries from the Media. He defended his bowlers (“we’ve got to accept what has happened”), but they just weren’t up to the challenge of making even a small impression on a flat Gaddafi wicket.
As for captain Rahul Dravid, he was bereft of ideas and the only time anybody showed some passion ' actually, plenty ' was when Sourav Ganguly brought off an unbelievable catch to dismiss Rana Naved-ul Hasan. “Yes, it was brilliant. But, at the Test level, they’re expected to be taken,” is what Chappell said.
Immediately after the catch, though, a TV camera caught him grinning. However, manager Raj Singh Dungarpur’s reaction wasn’t recorded for Sourav to replay once he has signed off as an India cricketer.
Well, back to the wicket.
“The one Australia played on in Faisalabad (1979-80) was the flattest I ever saw... The wicket here would make the semi-final,” quipped Chappell, who was then the captain. Australia drew, but it’s serious business for the team he’s now associated with.
Openers Virender Sehwag and Dravid ' that, after a change in strategy, he would open was reported in these columns on Saturday ' were unseparated when Day-II of the first Test was called off 19 overs prematurely. Yet, so much remains to be done. By them and the rest.
Despite Younis reaching 199 before being run out (the second such instance in Test history) and Yousuf almost having sprinted to 173, Afridi was the cynosure. And the hammering he gave Harbhajan ' taking 27 off his 34th over ' may have hurt the off-spinner for the entire series.
“He’s a powerful guy... The ground wasn’t big enough to keep him in,” was Chappell’s way of appreciation. He compared Afridi’s missile-like hits to blasts by giants Viv Richards, Ian Botham and Clive Lloyd. Even Adam Gilchrist of the present times.
As for Afridi, he acknowledged his intention had been to smash Harbhajan for six sixes in that over, but had to stop at four as the ball got wet and played spoilsport. “Koshish to thi, lekin...” he remarked.
One run more and Afridi would have drawn level with Brian Lara, credited with scoring the maximum in a single over. His blitz notwithstanding, the allrounder still rated the 141 as an opener in the drama-packed Test at the Chepauk (seven years ago) as his finest.
Akmal, who erased Gilchrist’s record of the fastest Test century by a ’keeper, confessed he “couldn’t believe” what he’d achieved. “He played a zabardaast innings,” is how Afridi praised his much less experienced teammate.
Largely because of the docile wicket, even Akmal didn’t rate the innings as his finest. “The No.1, for me, is the match-saving 109 in Mohali...”
Incidentally, in a chat with The Telegraph, Younis insisted he wasn’t “disappointed” at missing out on a bigger achievement: “Cricket is a game... I could have fallen on 99, equally I could have gone on to 299... Main upset nahin hota...”
That’s a wonderful attitude to carry.
Meanwhile, physio John Gloster has informed that Yuvraj Singh, who got struck by the side of his right knee when Afridi went for a sweep, hasn’t suffered anything more than a “bruise.” It’s good news.