R.P. Singh impresses on debut after replacing Ganguly
Faisalabad: It was a stunning blow, encapsulating power and precision. It was the stroke of an adventurer. The ball soared over the cover fence and paceman Rudra Pratap Singh peered into the sky in disbelief.
A man from the rugged mountains up north, Shahid Afridi has this air of nonchalance about him; some call it arrogance, some others self-belief. And he can send the ball into the far stands as the Indian debutant discovered.
On a lovely batting pitch and under brilliant sunshine, Pakistan roared along to 379 for four, batting positively after Inzamam-ul-Haq won a good toss in the second Allianz Test at the Iqbal Stadium here on Saturday.
The host recovered from left-armer R. P. Singh's double-strike in the second session. The side was in a spot of bother at 216 for four but the blistering unbeaten 163-run partnership in 195 balls between skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq (79 batting, 122b, 9x4) and Shahid Afridi (85 batting, 84b, 11x4, 3x6) put the side in a position of strength.
Earlier, with the openers back in the pavilion for 49, the in-form Younis Khan (83, 131b, 13x4) and the fluent Mohammad Yousuf (65, 119b, 8x4, 1x6) put together 142 in 214 balls in a valuable third wicket association.
Inzamam may have been tentative initially against Anil Kumble, but batted with both touch and authority. The Pakistan skipper caressed the ball through the gaps; his effort was dotted with delicate cuts, glorious drives and elegant flicks. The big man showed that he has soft hands too.
Pathan vs Pathan
The remarkable aspect of Afridi's innings was that he appeared to be circumspect on occasions yet secured his runs at a fair clip. He sizzled in the Pathan versus Pathan duel, against Irfan Pathan, swinging and pulling the left-armer for sixes and then blasting him for four straight down the ground.
Younis, who now has an astonishing 790 runs in five Tests against India, cover drove and square-cut with timing and placement. He was particularly impressive against the spin combination of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble, using his feet and being balanced as he stroked the ball.
Yousuf, a fluent batsman with one of the finest cover-drives in the business, handled the pacemen with aplomb and struck a lovely straight six off Kumble. He adds an extra dimension to the side, as he can strike the bowlers off their rhythm.
The pitch, from which the last layer of grass was removed, held no alarms. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh got a couple of deliveries to turn and bounce sharply, but there was not too much purchase for the spinners. How this wicket behaves in the following days will be watched with interest.
Out of the four wickets that fell during the day, three were the result of brilliant catches. Rahul Dravid flung to his left from first slip to hold Shoaib Malik (19) when the batsman edged R.P. Singh. Yuvraj Singh leapt high like a goalkeeper to pouch a spectacular one-handed catch at point when Younis unleashed a fierce square-cut off R.P. Singh.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni dived to his right to snaffle the snick when Yousuf attempted to drive R.P. Singh without moving his feet. In the other dismissal, Zaheer Khan ended the promising innings of Salman Butt (37), Dhoni making no mistake with the regulation catch.
It was an all left-arm pace attack for India, lacking in variety. The strongly-built R.P. Singh operated with much heart on his debut and there was some reward for him as well. In terms of discipline and control on a pitch not offering him much assistance, Zaheer was the pick. Pathan could not settle into any sort of rhythm, straying in length and direction.
Harbhajan, not consistent with his line, was unable to stem the flow of runs. Kumble had a confident leg-before shout against Inzamam turned down - he should be winning a lot more lbw decisions since he is not a big spinner of the ball - but this was a day when he was also guilty of straying down the leg-side. On his part, Dravid backed the bowlers with good field placements for most part.
The decision to drop Ganguly from the XI will be debated upon. Once the team-management chose to enter the contest with five specialist bowlers, it was left with no other option given Yuvraj Singh's current form and fielding ability. Irrespective of the final outcome, playing five specialist bowlers - India last adopted this strategy in 2000 - has to be seen as an aggressive ploy.
While R.P. Singh was Ganguly's replacement, a hamstring strain to Agarkar meant there was a place for Zaheer too.
Pakistan countered the Indian strategy by including an all-rounder in Abdul Razzaq for paceman Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and strengthening its batting. Mohammad Asif replaced the indisposed Mohammad Sami.
Pakistan - 1st innings: S. Malik c Dravid b R.P. Singh 19, S. Butt c
Dhoni b Zaheer 37, Younis Khan c Yuvraj b R.P. Singh 83, Mohd. Yousuf c Dhoni b R.P. Singh 65; Inzamam (batting) 79, S. Afridi (batting) 85; Extras (lb-4, w-1, nb-6): 11; Total (for four wkts. in 90 overs) 379.
Fall of wickets: 1-49 (Malik), 2-65 (Butt), 3-207 (Younis), 4-216 (Yousuf).
India bowling: Pathan 11-1-70-0, R.P. Singh 17-1-77-3, Zaheer 19-5-61-1, Harbhajan 21-1-75-0, Kumble 22-3-92-0.