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I have been amused at the way the media has been reacting in a frenzy, crucifying the pitch curators and ground staff at Lahore and Faisalabad, after the first two matches of the Test series between India and Pakistan ended in draws. Most of these criticisms are driven by the comments of the cricket pundits and expert commentators on air who, quite frankly, had too much free time to talk and hence spouted a lot of hot air on the subject. One would imagine that the curators had committed some unpardonable crime for which the minimum punishment should be hanging. Then there is also a section of the Indian media which believes that Pakistani batsmen actually feared the Indian seam attack and hence requested flat pitches to be prepared! From their words, you would quite easily believe that Pakistan wanted a draw at these two venues to enable them to take on India at their stronghold Karachi! Now Inzy might not be the most attacking captain, but I don't think even he would have left the series to be decided in the final match, especially considering the strength of the Pakistani bowling attack on paper as compared to the Indian attack.
So while I don't believe that the pitches at Lahore and Faisalabad were deliberately prepared to suit batsmen, I had the definite impression that the Pakistanis had a gameplan to defeat the Indians on flat pitches before the series started. It was a gamble, but they were hoping to win the toss (which they did twice), post a huge total (which they also achieved in both games) and then hope that the Indian batting would crumble under the pressure of runs, if nothing else. Even on flat tracks, teams have crumbled in the past batting last and India have often found themselves in such situations overseas and lost matches. Pakistan clearly wanted such a situation. While flat pitches ideally suited their gameplan I don't think they imagined that the Indian batsmen would respond in such a fantastic manner. I also got the impression that they expected the pace of Shoaib and the spin of Danish Kaneria to work in spite of the state of the pitches. But the strong response of the Indian batting unnerved them. Lahore probably dented their confidence after the 400 run partnership between Dravid and Sehwag and to be honest, I don't think India could have saved the Faisalabad test without that strong performance in the first game. So at Faisalabad, Pakistan never really expected India to crumble and it was always a question of hoping that something dramatic would happen in the last couple of days. It was not the pitch itself but the Pakistani mindset which killed the contest in the end. Inzamam's opinion about the state of the game on the second day clearly said it all. They weren't really expecting a victory. And all said and done, the Indian batting was truly outstanding in both the games. Maybe we aren't crediting them enough for the draws. Fair enough, Lahore was marred by bad weather conditions, but surely the Faisalabad Test was not a foregone conclusion on day 3 in the second session of play when India were in a precarious position at 280 odd for 5 before Dhoni and Pathan cut loose and spoilt Pakistani dreams of a victory.
So I think that Pakistan's idea was good at least on paper. Prepare good batting tracks and put up a huge first innings score by nullifying the Indian bowling. Then unleash Shoaib Akthar and company on the Indian line-up and knock them over in no time. What they didn't realize was that: (a) this Indian team is much stronger mentally thanks to their victory over Pakistan in the previous tour and (b) the balls used in this series really weren't ideally suited for reverse swing which is really their fast bowlers' weapon of choice. Kookaburra balls, being slightly lighter and having a much less pronounced seam than the English Dukes or the Indian SG balls, weren't going to assist any of the pacers in that regard. To top it off, Shoaib himself isn't growing any younger and the strain of bowling on dead wickets for long periods of time finally got to him. The beamer he bowled at Dhoni (thankfully off-line) was a vicious delivery that could have easily sent the batsman to hospital and his lack of apology clearly showed that it was intentional. Age has caught up with him and I don't believe that he can hope to bowl over 150 kph consistently if he wants to stay in International cricket for a few more years. It's a question of whether he reconciles himself to this fact.
I think Geoffrey Boycott said it best on Ten Sports when questioned about the match in Faisalabad. He said that the game wasn't a boring draw (far from it), but it wasn't satisfactory since we couldn't get a result out of it. That was the key word: not satisfactory. So I don't agree that the pitch killed the contest. I think it was a combination of strong Indian batting and a negative attitude on the part of Pakistan which effectively reduced the match to a no-contest. If anything, the pitches in the series so far have been quite sporting in the sense that both teams got similar conditions all through the match. Now Karachi might be a different story. We'll just have to wait and watch!
Picture courtesy: rediff.com
Posted on Sat, Jan 28, 2006 at 14:51 IST (last updated: Sun, May 24, 2009 @ 19:19 IST)