February 1, 2006

India Lose the Test Series.

India succumbed spectacularly on the fourth day to an irresistible Pakistan, losing the match and with it, the series. Indians will look back at the first one hour of the match, where they got six wickets for 39, which included a first over hat-trick, and wonder how in the world they ended up losing by 341 runs in four days, our second-heaviest ever.

Incredulous as it may seem, it did happen. And for good reason. Many of them, in fact. The most important one was our bowling in the second innings. In spite of the batsmen faltering in the first innings, the second innings of Pakistan started with match in fine balance. And then incredibly Pakistan amassed 599 runs in 140.1 overs (at a run rate of 4.27) losing only 7 wickets. Every Pakistani batsman except Kamran Akmal who played only one ball got half-centuries. And the pitch, though much easier when Pakistan batted for the second time, was by no means a placid one. There was always something in it for bowlers, as was evident when India batted again. It seems to me that a callosal failure of the our bowlers is the only plausible reason one can arrive at.

Before the series began Indian bowlers were written off completely and the might of Pakistani bowling was hyped a little too much. Particularly the menace of Shoaib Akhtar was played out a lot. As the series progressed these exaggerations proved to be unfounded. Actually, the first two matches were played on pitches where a lower division team from Bangladesh could dig in and last for a couple of days against any Test bowling attack. So it was pointless to conclude anything about the relative merits of the two bowling attacks. Nevertheless, it was observed that Indian bowling was not a total wash-out compared to Pakistani bowling. Another feature of the first two tests was that Indian batsmen were shown in a more competent light. Indeed, in both tests Indians chased mammoth totals with aplomb. All these conclusions crashed against reality in Karachi.

On a helpful pitch, Pakistani bowlers performed way better than their Indian counterparts. The only time we looked like taking any wickets was in the first one hour of the match. And then, in the rest of that innings and in all of second innings they never even appeared as if they could get a wicket. I mean, do not just look at the score-board which was damaging enough: if had seen Pakistan bat you would understand how depressing it was. They were simply butchered. In this light, the only conclusion about the remarkable first hour could be that the pitch was extremely helpful (and also Pakistanis could not adjust immediately to the seaming conditions).

I do not for a moment suggest that it is all India's incompetence. For, Pakistan played beautifully and fully deserved to win. Kamran Akmal's innings in the first innings was a gem, and all of them batted very well in the second innings. Above all, Pakistan bowled very very well. I must say that Shoaib was not that effective (he got only 3 wickets out of 20). But Mohammad Asif and Abdul Razaq (7 wickets each) bowled very well. Some balls that got Asif his wickets were simply superb: wicket of Laxman in both the innings, wicket of Dravid in the first. Razaq, though not spectacular like Asif, bowled at a probing line and length and with great discipline.

After Pakistan posted that huge total, one can not read too much into India's second innings effort. It was pretty much a lost cause and really there was not much they could have hoped to achieve. Still, a word must said about Yuvraj's brilliant hundred. He came a long way from being overlooked for tests. One hopes that he builds a solid place in the team now. Soon enough, he will be one of the mainstay of the Indian batting line-up.

This is a series with massive implications. For one thing, India lost its second place in the official test ranking to England. They now are in the third position with 111 points (losing 4 points). Ironically, this means that India would get more points if they beat England at home in March. Pakistan are unchanged in the fourth position, but they gained a healthy 5 points.

More importantly, this series reversed the trend of recent series between the two teams. India have not lost a mutual test series to Pakistan since 1987, when they lost 1-0 at home. This sounds misleadingly dramatic, since we played only four series (not including most recent one) in these 19 years. Still, the fact remains. So Pakistan could be really happy that they defeated India after all these years.

As for the immediate implications, of course, Pakistan will start the One-Day series on a more confident note. I am not too sure if this is going to have a major impact on the series, though. Pakistan may be favorites, but not by much. We fell short of Pakistan in the test series, but the differences were all peculiar to the nature of test match cricket, and not many conclusions can be drawn on possible one-day performances. Indians will do well to keep that in mind.

Also posted (slightly differently) on Desicritics.


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