Feburary issue 2006

By | Sports | Published 18 years ago

It was like travelling into a different world altogether. From the boredom of Lahore and Faisalabad to the electric finale in Karachi, it could not have been more of a contrast. And we have God and the Pakistan team to thank for that.

Pakistan’s thumping 341 run triumph in the decisive third Test did much more than just win the three-match series for the hosts. The match, which ended in less than fours days, also helped save the high-profile Allianz Cup from turning into a damp squib. The Karachi Test was also the saving grace for Test cricket after the doom and gloom that marked the two Punjab matches, both of which ended in dull draws.

In many ways, the 2006 Test series between cricket’s greatest rivals began and ended in Karachi.

Following the two high-scoring flops in Lahore and Faisalabad, the players, the officials, the sponsors and the fans were all pinning their hopes on Karachi. And the city came through with flying colours.

As did Pakistan’s young guns, who have helped the national team come out of the 2003 World Cup debacle, and are slowly transforming a bunch of talented losers into a winning unit. The result, as Pakistan’s acting captain Younis Khan pointed out, could have been very different had Kamran Akmal not played that gem of a match-winning knock on the opening day. The result could also have been different had the lanky Muhammad Asif, playing just his third Test, not bowled a series of great spells that left even the greatest of all modern day batsmen — Sachin Tendulkar — on all fours as the bails flew in all directions.

It was a triumph that Pakistan and especially its rookies, including come back kid Faisal Iqbal, would remember for a lifetime. And rightly so.

The hosts took the field in Karachi on the first morning of the third Test under immense pressure. They had scored freely in the preceding Tests but had completely failed in translating early advantages into positive results. They had posted huge totals on both occasions but allowed India to dominate the proceedings in the later stages of the two Tests.

The Pakistanis were criticised for making two ‘dead’ tracks in Lahore and Faisalabad at a time when they had one of the best bowling attacks in the world.

The hosts finally went for a green-top wicket in Karachi and initially it seemed they had dug their own grave. India’s left-arm pacer, Irfan Pathan, became the first bowler in Test history to record a hat-trick in the first over of a match as India brought Pakistan to their knees by sending six of their leading batsmen back to the dressing room with a dismal score of just 39.

But then came the rescue act, and what an act it was. Kamran Akmal scored a sparkling hundred, with vital support coming from Abdul Razzaq and later, Shoaib Akhtar at the other end, helping Pakistan post a respectable 245 in the first innings. More than that, he wrested back the psychological advantage from the visitors. Pakistan, in many ways, had won the match on that action-packed first day when 14 wickets fell. Taking the cue from the late-order batsmen, the Pakistani bowlers bowled with zeal and even managed to give their side a slim first innings lead. Asif and Razzaq lived up to the faith of the national selectors by ripping through the much-vaunted Indian batting line-up.

Pakistan grew more and more confident, something that was proven by their batsmen’s sterling performances in the second innings. Openers Salman Butt and Imran Farhat laid the foundation of a massive total with sparkling fifties. Faisal Iqbal, first glorified and later crucified for being a nephew of the great Javed Miandad, struck his maiden century assuring that Pakistan would give India a huge target to chase. The world record display of Pakistani batsmen, who have long been dismissed as an inconsistent lot, resulted in a mammoth task for India. For the first time in Test history the top seven batsmen of a team individually scored over fifty runs in an innings. The Pakistani scorecard was a rare sight. It read: Salman Butt (53), Imran Farhat (57), Younis Khan (77), Mohammad Yousuf (97), Faisal Iqbal (139), Shahid Afridi (60) and Abdul Razzaq (90).

By just being set a daunting target of 607 to win, India were simply batted out of the match. They probably targeted to simply survive the 164 overs. However, they lasted only 58.4 overs.

The bowling stars were once again Asif and Razzaq, though counting out a fired up Shaoib from the list, would be unfair. Shaoib’s menacing pace softened India. Tendulkar might not have surrendered tamely like a lamb had he not been hit hard on the helmet by Shoaib. And India would not have succumbed so easily had he not sent back Virender Sehwag in the first innings and skipper Rahul Dravid in the second Indian outing with the help of sheer pace. Shaoib’s figures of just four wickets at an average of 63.25 look unflattering, but ask the Indian batsmen and they would tell you how threatening he was in Karachi.

Speaking of figures, the duo of Asif and Razzaq did a great job. Between them they got 14 wickets ensuring that India could bat for a mere 112.5 overs in their two innings. This time, the contest between the bat and ball was won by the bowlers, the Pakistani bowlers.

The writer is ranked among the battle-hardened journalists covering sports. As sports editor for The News, he covers sporting action extensively in Pakistan and abroad.