Faisalabad: With yet another Test at the Iqbal Stadium ending in a draw, the focus is now on Karachi, venue of the final match in this three-Test series.
The Indians reach the port city on Thursday afternoon, but speculation on the XI has begun. As is his style, captain Rahul Dravid didn’t reveal his cards, but kept open the possibility of playing four specialist bowlers ' one less than here.
“We gave away over a 1,000 runs and, so, the five bowlers’ plan didn’t work... However, it was the right tactic for the Faisalabad wicket... We have the option, but may not do the same in Karachi... Our aim is to be positive,” he maintained.
Dravid became a trifle irritated, while interacting with the Media, when someone asked whether Sourav Ganguly would return home for the (Bengal vs UP) Ranji final as he was unlikely to make the XI at the National Stadium, too.
Both the final and the concluding Test begin on Sunday.
“I don’t even know the Ranji final dates and we haven’t given any thought to the XI for Karachi. We’re still here... I don’t know the source of such (Sourav-related) news... Gautam Gambhir, Wasim Jaffer and Sourav are all going to be available for selection,” he declared.
Sourav, therefore, has to keep fingers crossed. “It’s to be seen whether the arrival of (East’s) selector Ranjib Biswal, in Karachi, will help his comeback bid,” is how a well-placed source of The Telegraph put it late on Wednesday.
For the former captain to come into the equation, Dravid (and coach Greg Chappell) have to first strike out one bowler. Even then, they could look at a specialist opener to partner Virender Sehwag on a wicket which should have life...
Meanwhile, the second Test ended on somewhat of a farcical note. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh shared the second new ball and Pakistan continued to bat till eight wickets had gone ' the last five falling for as few as two runs.
With Inzamam-ul Haq not wanting to take a chance with his back and Shoaib Malik in Sialkot for his father’s last rites, the second innings closed at 490. In 14 overs, India had to get 476 for a 1-0 lead.
“Initially, we did consider a declaration around lunch, but needed to be 300 ahead at that stage... We were just 251 in front and couldn’t take the risk... Is wicket pe mushkil ho sakta tha... Risk rehta,” explained Inzamam.
Dravid conceded he didn’t expect a declaration. “Given the way we’ve batted in this series and the nature of the wicket, I knew that wouldn’t come...” But, then, why get Dhoni to open the bowling and send a ‘message’ to the Pakistani Establishment'
He laughed: “I’d like to say it was strategy... Dhoni has been fancying himself at nets and as the match wasn’t going anywhere, I decided to rest the regulars...” The regulars, though, came on from the third over and Zaheer Khan grabbed four wickets in ten deliveries.
As a late burst, it was terrific, but didn’t mean much in the larger context. In fact, if Ajit Agarkar is fit, Zaheer is unlikely to retain his berth.
Stand-in captain Younis Khan again fell in the 190s (194, instead of 199, as in Lahore), while Mohammed Yousuf got yet another century ' 126. And, again, the pair featured in a huge partnership (242 for the third-wicket).
Younis had a chanceless innings and deserves kudos for exceptional consistency. Yousuf had two let-offs: Very early and, then, in the 70s. That the Indians can’t snare the former has to be a matter of acute concern.
Strangely, both captains defended their bowlers ' despite 1,702 runs in only three completed innings ' and crucified the wicket. Another Test could probably have been played on the same surface, but the numero uno challenge is making the most of adverse conditions.
Indeed, when Shoaib Akhtar was at full tilt on the third afternoon, the wicket came across as being very different. But for Dhoni’s ferocious counter at that stage, Pakistan could have set off for Karachi with an unbeatable lead.
What must be particularly worrying for Dravid is that Harbhajan Singh is wicketless in the series and Irfan Pathan hasn’t got more than a couple. The latter bowled sensibly, on Wednesday morning, but hasn’t even remotely looked to being the spearhead.
Dravid made the point that much of the excitement in the last two series’ was due to the “outstanding” wickets. “The ones prepared by Andy Atkins on on our last tour to Pakistan (2003-04), for example, were some of the finest I’ve played on... Good wickets produce good cricket,” he observed.
Perhaps, there’s a lesson there.
With six centurions, the Man of the Match award went to debutant Rudra Pratap Singh for a haul of five wickets (four in innings No.1). “Over the five days, I learnt to bowl in the right areas... The award didn’t come as a surprise... It’s a great feeling,” he said, dedicating it to his parents ' Shiv Prasad and Girija.
Some were of the opinion Dhoni ought to have got the award, but Inzamam felt it was a “sahi faisla...”
Footnote: There was a scramble for the exits as soon as Shahid Afridi got out (for one). The capacity turnout, which included those allowed in free on a first-come basis, had been waiting for their hero and nobody else. The Pathan’s following has to be seen to be appreciated. They call it the Afridi effect