Lessons of Lahore and before
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Lessons of Lahore and before

Indian team may have won against Pakistan at Lahore, but they need to plug the loopholes, writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: Mar 10, 2006 18:21 IST

When India were on the threshold of a rare victory, coach Greg Chappell was still sitting with his thinking cap on. TV cameras captured a face betraying no emotions.

Like an accomplished chess player, he could well have been thinking of his next move. But all moves must begin with the knowledge, and knowledge comes from lessons. What should be the game plan to once again put the opposition on the mat? This can only come out of the lessons of the past.

Lesson One: You cannot contain Pakistan

What's a brake? Going by their show in the power-play periods at Rawalpindi and Lahore, it will be surprising if most Pakistani players know the meaning of this word.

Irfan's first-over dismissal of Salman Butt in both the matches did not matter. The acceleration was on all the time and despite losing quick wickets, Pakistan were 95 for four at the end of 20 overs in both the games. Other teams, barring Australia, would have been struggling with the run-rate, but not these Pakistanis.

Comparison of Pak powerplays after losing wicket in very first over
1 - 1047/355/2
11 - 1530/120/1
16 - 2018/020/1

In both the matches Pakistan went past 260, a respectable score on most wickets. In fact, the result would have been more to the liking of the home side at Lahore, but for the rearguard action from Yuvraj and Dhoni. Lahore's 'tradition' too helped, where chasing big scores is relatively easier compared to other grounds in Pakistan.

Top chases at Lahore
316AustraliaPakistan6 wkts1998
294South AfricaWest Indies5 wkts1997
294IndiaPakistan5 wkts2004
294PakistanSri Lanka6 wkts2004
292PakistanNew Zealand3 wkts2003

So the lesson one is finish off the Pakistanis. Do not allow them 50 overs as you can't contain them. India did that in Rawalpindi to have them for a good but manageable total of 265, but grassed too many catches at Lahore, where the hosts almost reached within the sniffing distance of 300.

Lesson Two: Choose supersub carefully

Why is India not playing with 12 players?

In the first match, Raina was left unused because Inzamam wanted India to bat first.

At Rawalpindi, bowling all-rounder Ramesh Powar was left cooling his heels because Pakistan opted to bat first and India lost just three wickets in pursuit of victory.

And in the third, it was pointless to have Zaheer as super-sub if India were to field first. Unless Zaheer is a better bat than Agarkar! But Zaheer, probably a cover for Sreesanth or RP Singh, was certainly the worst of the Indian bowlers at Lahore, giving away as many as 36 runs off his four overs.

This series is not just one-off disappointment in respect of the super-sub. Of late, India has not been doing wonderfully well with this experiment in the game and only an all-rounder may be in a position to do justice to this role. In the ODI series in November against an equally powerful South African side, India's super-subs singularly failed to impress.

Performance of Indian Super-Sub (in the ODI series against South Africa)
SAG.Gambhir0DNBWon- 5 wkts
SAM.KartikDNB0/52Lost - 10 wkts
SAG.Gambhir38DNBWon - 6 wkts
SAG.Gambhir0DNBLost - 5 wkts

So India needs some super displays from its 12th man, and preferably requires an allrounder like Powar to play this role effectively.

Lesson three: Chase is the key

Quite a role reversal. There was a time when India's best bet lay in setting a score and then defending it. Now the scenario has completely changed. A team full of charged youngsters like Yuvraj, Kaif, Pathan and Dhoni is not at all given to losing its poise while chasing a big target. In fact, two of India's last three successive wins at Lahore have come thanks to their enterprise and never-say-die spirit. Both the times India were going after big totals midway through the series.

In 2004, India was in serious threat of going 1-3 down to Pakistan. Faced with Pakistan's total of 293, the visitors had lost their five wickets for only 162 on board. The last recognised pair of Kaif and Dravid was at the crease. And here Kaif rose to the occasion and the memories of NatWest Final came flashing to the mind. India did not lose any further wicket as it levelled the series 2-2, before winning it in the final match at Lahore. Kaif made an unbeaten 71 off just 77 balls while Yuvraj too contributed with a run a ball 36.

Two years later, Yuvraj and Dhoni did the trick. India were still 99 runs away from victory after the departure of Tendulkar and Kaif in quick succession, but the dare-devilry of this carefree-twosome did the trick. They showed that India have it in them to chase any total, under any circumstances.

Last seven matches involving India in the subcontinent have seen successful chases, four times by India, twice by South Africa, and once by Pakistan. So chase is indeed the key.

Lesson Four: S oh S: Shoaib and Sami

Shoaib is still alive and kicking. While Akhtar may have been cooling his 'ankle', his namesake Malik is sending the Indians on a leather hunt. Two 'near hundreds' and a hundred are ample testimony to the skills and the character of this one of the most amiable players to have come from Pakistan.

Malik may have been lucky with ''playing football on a cricket field'' in the second match, and dropped off Sreesanth in the third when only on 12, but then luck favours the brave.

Malik, however, does tend to give some chances and India will have to pick them with both hands! Malik paces his innings really well, as seen at Lahore, and one will have to catch him rather early in the innings, as he is difficult to catch up with in the later part of his innings.

Progress of Malik's innings at Lahore
1 - 2556.81
26 - 5086.20
51 - 75100.00

There is an old saying that when two elephants fight, it is the grass underneath that gets crushed. Asif and Sami in no way fit the description, but if someone is going to suffer in their duel for supremacy, it will only be the Indian top order.

Pakistan may have missed the services of nippy Sami in this series. In terms of Economy, this lanky seamer has been the fourth best Pakistani bowler at Rawalpindi and the best at Lahore. He could well have been the difference at Lahore. In fact, in the 2004 at Rawalpindi, Sami's three wickets for 41 helped Pakistan beat India in a high-scoring match to level the series.

Against India, Sami has been a little expensive with runs per over rate of around six, but like Asif, his early wickets can help other Pakistan bowlers put shackles on the Indians.

Lesson five: Open with care

Now Dhoni cannot be risked with opening, nor can Dravid be. Yuvraj has been fantastic in the middle order while Kaif is also needed as cover for any top order failure. After another dismal show from Gambhir, opening pair will be the biggest worry for the Indian coach. More so if India lose the toss and are made to bat.

Sachin looks to have rediscovered his ODI form in what could be his final trip to Pakistan, but opening partnership is always critical to a big score. India could try Irfan at this position, but with the series at its most critical stage for both the teams, it will be something even the tough Aussie may find difficult to decide in a hurry.

Ditto for the opening bowlers. If Indian fielders too are finding the pace of Sreesanth too difficult to handle, then slightly slower, but more accurate RP Singh can be given the new ball. If Pathan gets Salman again, the lanky paceman look's India's best bet to keep the momentum going with some incisive seam and swing.

But for bowlers to succeed, Indians should avoid one thing -- butter in their morning breakfast!

First Published: Feb 15, 2006 12:44 IST