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January 19, 2000


India Down Under

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Australia weather Pak storm, win again

Prem Panicker

There was this exponent of the Kerala style of martial arts, Kalaripayattu, who once fell foul of a village goonda.

Biff! Bang!! Thud!!! Next thing you know, said Kalari expert is lying bleeding and broken in the gutter.

Asks a passerby: 'Hey, there is so much hype about how Kalari is the father (or is it mother? not sure about the gender on this one) of Kung Fu and Judo and Shaolin and all the rest of it and you are supposed to be a master, how come a mere village bully flattened you so easily?"

"You see," the master explained seriously, spitting out a few teeth and things to facilitate speech, "to do my stuff, I've got to be able to set myself, get my footing and then attack -- the trouble is, that fellow started hitting me before I was ready and wouldn't let me get set to defend or attack!"

I was reminded of that story while watching first Ijaz Ahmed, then Abdul Razzaq play the village bully to Glenn McGrath's bowling expert at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Each batsman, in turn, played to the same strategy -- setting themselves on the back leg before the ball was delivered, picking the bat up high on the back lift and just going through with every shot, with the full flourish, focussing on hitting on the line and trusting to eye and power to get the ball away, they launched an assault that left McGrath broken and bleeding by the way side. His first spell of 3 overs went for 36. His second spell of 2 overs went for 25. And this included five successive fours, in his fourth over, with Abdul Razzaq cutting, hooking, pulling and driving him to desperation.

It was stirring stuff. But the aftermath again reminded you of a parallel -- the charge of the light brigade, which prompted a distinguished onlooker to comment: "It's magnificient -- but it isn't war!"

The same held true for Pakistan. Chasing 287 on a good batting track, they had the right idea when Ijaz was pushed to the top of the order and obviously told to go for broke. Ijaz got full marks for guts, an A+ for shot execution -- but batted C for shot selection, hitting too hard too often where he would have been better advised, having got the main Australian bowler off, to look for the long innings. The same held true for Razzaq as well. Having broken McGrath on the wagonwheel of strokes all round the wicket, he lost his patience after facing four dot balls from Stuart McGill and, off the last ball of the leg spinner's first over, aimed a wild slash to throw away his wicket.

The game turned there. Decisively. In favour of the home team. And from that point on, Australia had the chance to take a second wind, regroup, get back to the basic virtues of line and length bowling and electric out cricket, and ended up with a comfortable 81 run victory to go clear to the top of the table.

Two sets of figures suffice to tell you the real story of the match. When Australia, after winning the toss, batted first, the progression went as follows: 38/2 in 10, 57/2 in 15, 79/2 in 20, 113/2 in 25, 137/4 in 30, 166/4 in 35, 185/4 in 40, 233/5 in 45 and 286 all out in 49.4. Check those figures out: a calm, quiet beginning, giving the bowlers their due. Steady accumulation during the middle period. And a flat out blitz at the end, with 101 runs coming off the final 9.4 overs as the batting side, with wickets in hand, timed its assault to perfection. Now compare this with Pakistan's progression: 46/1 in 5, 105/3 in 15, 121/4 in 20, 136/6 in 25, 147/8 in 30, 171/8 in 35, 195/9 in 40, 205 all out in 45.2. Again, the story tells itself: an amazing, almost incredible start, then sheer thoughtlessness as the batting side, with the target nicely covered (Pakistan were, when the field restrictions were taken off, 48 ahead having lost only the one extra wicket), threw away wickets with unbelievable prodigality.

It was a bit of a pity, really, since Pakistan had so much going for it. Australia, after getting a fright the other day at the SCG when just two Indian seam bowlers reduced them to 58/5 inside of ten overs, ensured that every blade of grass was taken off the Sydney track, converting it into a nice batting track that would take some turn, thanks to the watering, later in the day.

It was the kind of track on which the dice were loaded against the bowlers -- and Pakistan picked the right side when they dropped Wasti, lifted Ijaz to the top of the order and brought Azhar Mahmood into the middle, thus giving them six regular bowlers, a lineup that seemed to cover for every eventuality.

Australia meanwhile rested Brett Lee and brought in Stuart McGill -- for the second time running at the SCG, Steve Waugh reading the pitch to perfection and backing the leg spinner over another pace bowler. He then went one better, winning the toss and giving Australia the benefit of first strike.

Akram bowled a superlative first spell. Unfortunately, for the second time on the trot, his partner in arms, Younis, proved ineffective. Younis has lost yards of his pace, his late-swinging, toe-crushing yorkers are just not firing any more and overall, he looks a shadow of 'Waqar the Wrecker'. Thus, the pressure brought to bear at one end was taken off at the other, Waqar allowing the batsmen to chip the ball around for singles, and keep the tins ticking over. Pakistan in fact would have been in worse plight but for one superb over from Akram, when, having troubled Gilchrist endlessly in the previous over, the Pak skipper lifted one outside off and seamed it away to find the edge as the batsman sought to chop it down to point.

There's been a bit of the frenetic about Ponting's batting, in the first two outings in this series. Right from the point he got to the crease, he was trying every shot in the book -- twice, it worked and he got off the blocks quickly. The third time, he got the edge and went for a duck. And here, again, he went back, this time with a golden duck against his name. Akram pitched a very full length, Ponting as always went a long way across to play to leg, missed the line and was trapped bang in front.

Australia would have been in even bigger trouble but for the benevolence of the umpire. The first ball of the 15th over, from Akthar, beat Michael Bevan every way there is -- late inswing, pace, both combining to have the batsman pushing down the wrong line. The ball pitched off and middle, straightened, hit the pad low down in front of middle stump and to universal surprise, the umpire kept his hand at his side. 49/2 at that point.

That said, Bevan wasn't exactly shy of giving the Pakistanis ways to get him out. A while later, he played too early at a very well disguised slower ball, one of the few good ones Younis was to bowl in the day, the ball looped nicely in the air and Saqlain, with all the time in the world, went down in slow motion and took it on the bounce. In the 23rd over, he then waltzed down the track, for Saqlain to beat him with an off spinner turning past the left-hander's bat. Moin was getting the ball nicely into his gloves, but he made the mistake of looking at the batsman and not the ball, and saw it bounce out of his hand for a simple stumping to go to waste.

At one end, Mark Waugh struggled, scratched around, produced the odd nice drive on either side and spent the rest of his tenure concentrating on pushing the ball around for singles. Bevan, at the other end, stroked with conviction, going against the grain to flow into drives and finding the boundaries where normally, at least early on, he is content to chip and run. And the Pakistan fielders, in one of their worst displays in recent times, helped the process of recovery along by repeatedly giving away extra runs through sheer laziness. One instance suffices -- Bevan plays to midwicket, Inzamam, sweeping there, and with just 5, 6 yards to cover to cut off the ball, is content instead to turn like the Titanic on full steam, and amble along behind the ball while the batsman run four and seem to have time to run a fifth if they had wanted to.

Captaincy too was a touch inexplicable around this point. Akthar, the only Pakistan bowler who always looks dangerous, was given just two overs in a first spell before being taken off. When he was brought back, he struck, and twice at that. Akthar produced a slower ball, Mark Waugh shaped to run it down to third man and was beaten both by the change down and by the seam movement in, and managed only to play on to his stumps.

Brother Steven followed soon after. This time, Akthar bowled a quicker one outside off, again with a bit of seam movement in, Steve Waugh had a huge swing with his head well in the air, overhit it and managed only to drag it on off the edge.

Bevan had by then shrugged off his reprieves and was settling into a very good innings. His batting style is best summed up in the fact that when he was on 61 off 79 balls, he had 6 fours. But more importantly, the same amount of runs had come off singles, and in addition, three twos and two threes gave an indication of what placement and foot speed could do when it comes to run accumulation.

Bevan's wicket fell just when he was looking good, shaping to play an Azhar Mahmood delivery on line of off and middle over long on, going into the shot in predetermined fashion, hitting it too early and only getting the toe of the bat on the shot to pick out long on.

From there on, the Pakistan bowlers appeared to lose the plot completely. Azhar Mahmood and Abdul Razzaq had combined nicely to keep the batsmen quiet between overs 35-40, just 19 runs coming in that span for the loss of Bevan. But going into the straight, when Pakistan needed to keep it tight, Saqlain produced one of the worst overs he has bowled in a long time, repeatedly bowling long hops outside off or going too far down the leg side to let Symonds cut, and drive, him all over the park, 21 coming in that over.

That opened up the floodgates. Akthar was smashed for 12 in the next over. In the 47th, Akram created history when Damien Martyn tried to clobber him from off to leg, managed only to get a top edge and the ball swirled high for Ijaz at point to hold a very well judged catch -- of the same kind that the other day, Martyn himself had failed to judge and ended up grassing.

That wicket made Akram the first man in the history of the game to record 400 wickets in ODIs -- an enormous milestone, and tribute to a lifetime of brilliant pace, seam and swing bowling.

From then on, it was all about swinging for glory, with Symonds and Shane Lee producing electric cameos that powered Australia to 101 runs in the span 41-49.4.

Pakistan came out to chase. Ijaz appeared to be in one of those moods that occasionally come upon him. Where he generally tends to shuffle a long way across his stumps and nudge and poke at the ball, here he was setting himself, backing eye and timing and power to cart the ball over the infield -- as exemplified in the six he hit in the 3rd over of the innings, off McGrath, leaning back a bit, freeing his arms and throwing his bat into a shot that took the ball from outside off and deposited it back over the bowler's head and over the straight boundary.

It was not that McGrath bowled any worse than normal. His line is to bowl around or outside off and keep it there, waiting for frustrated batsmen to make a mistake -- the preferred mistake being to push away from body, getting the edge. Here, Ijaz took that line out of the equation by simply hitting back down the same line, which meant even the mishit edges had enough force to carry high over the slips and down to third man.

But Ijaz, in these moods, is a bit of a runaway train -- he can't stop until he crashes. Here the crash came early as he went for one more of those shots where he sought to take the ball from outside off and deposit it over midwicket, Fleming got that one to bounce a bit higher and Ijaz duly holed out to midwicket, off the thick upper edge.

That brought Razzaq to the middle. Earlier, when sent in at one down, his game has been to hang in there, playing dot balls ad infinitum, ad nauseum. The other day, batting down the order, he had however launched a superb assault on the Australian bowlers at the death, and that confidence appeared to be fuelling an even more brilliant assault here. If Ijaz's hitting was a bit iffy at the best of times, Razzaq was coldly clinical. He picked the line early, hit off to off and leg to leg for the most part, and concentrated on getting under each ball and lifting it over the infield, letting the fast outfield do the rest.

At the other end, Anwar was stroking the ball around nicely, keeping his end going when, as happens so often, Australian fielders gave the bowlers a breather with a spectacular dismissal. Anwar chopped one down to the gully region. Martyn, fielding there, dived and palmed the ball away towards the slips. By then, the batsmen had taken off. Ponting, from second slip, raced up, picked the ball up and bent a throw over Anwar's head, in the fashion of a Roberto Carlos freekick, bang onto the base of middle stump at the bowler's end to have the batsman a good two feet short of safety.

Then came the much ignored Stuart McGill. The first ball he bowled was a portent of what was to follow -- flighted so high it looked like a full toss, it looped dramatically, landed in front of the batsman on leg and whizzed away outside off. Four balls of this treatment and Razzaq, impatient at just the wrong time, threw his bat at another one as it turned past him, managing only to get the toe of the bat to ball for McGrath at point to dive and hold a nice catch.

Inzamam ul Haq is no Thomas Alva Edison -- experimenting is not for him. Thus, once he finds a mode of self-dismissal that suits him, he sticks it with -- whether it is run outs during the World Cup, or LBWs in this ongoing series. Here, for the third time in three tries, he ambled across his stumps, poked lackadaisically down the wrong line, took the ball on his pads bang in front of middle stump and very low down, and actually shrugged his shoulders and began walking back to the pavilion before the umpire had even raised his finger -- and how often does that happen on an LBW?

Yousuf Youhanna was done in by a beauty -- McGill (on form, this guy deserves a place ahead of Warne in the lineup, one would think on the basis of the way he bowled today) flighted and looped one to bring the batsman forward, pushing on line of middle for the ball to turn dramatically, flick the edge and go through to Gilchrist.

Azhar Mahmood like his predecessors batted like he had a flight to catch. Standing in his crease, moving his feet a bare centimeter or so, he swatted at one from McGill pitching outside off. The leggie was turning the ball sharply, Mahmood's well-wishers would have told him that aiming to swat him back over the straight field was therefore a shot designed to find the toe, not middle, of the bat -- which is what happened, for mid off to hold with ease. 124/6.

Moin Khan fell getting a bit too cute to a McGrath delivery, to give that bowler some relief. Going way across to off, he shaped tochange the angle on a quicker ball, full in length, and play to leg, managing only to get the leading edge for the ball to loop up to mid off. 138/7.

McGill then got one to float in a long way, tempting Saqlain into the paddle. The ball pitched off and was turning when it hit the back pad. In front of the stumps, sure, but the turn on the ball was easily carrying it past off stump -- the umpire however didn't think so, and raised his finger to make that two bad decisions on the day. 143/8, and that was pretty much that. Akram should have been aware that it made sense to bat out the overs, but aimed a wild heave and gave it away in the 39th. Younis appeared to have the right idea and yet again showed good skills with the bat, before Symonds bent one back to trap him in front, and Pakistan had lost a game it should have, based on the start, won quite handily.

India for one won't complain -- Pakistan's defeat leaves the third team in the series with a glimmer of a chance. What India does with that chance, we'll know on Friday, at Hobart.


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