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Team India fired by young guns

Akmal, Asif may be new names, but they emerged the scourge of the visitors in the series-decider.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2006 17:16 IST

Two emerging talents with just 24 Tests between them brought the vastly experienced Indian team to their knees and provided Pakistan with their first Test series victory over the arch-foes in nearly two decades at the National Stadium here on Thursday.

Wicket keeper Kamran Akmal, who turned 24 last month, and the 23-year-old Mohammed Asif may be new names in the cricketing world, but these two youngsters emerged the scourge of the visitors in the series-decider.

Akmal has indeed been a thorn in India's flesh since the Pakistan tour of India last year when he rescued his team in the company of Abdul Razzaq at Mohali. Razzaq too played a very crucial role in Pakistan's win in Karachi.

At Mohali, the duo resuced Pakistan from certain defeat and the visitors ultimately squared the series 1-1, losing the second Test at Kolkata and winning the third and final one at Bangalore.

This time too Akmal and Razzaq were the architects of the grand revival of the home team from a disastrous 39 for 6 to 245 in the first essay with their very gutsy and battling stand of 115.

In contrast, the much-vaunted Indian batting line-up, with each of the top five batsmen having represented the country in 70 Tests at least, came a cropper.

The inexperienced Asif bowled in the right areas on the seaming pitch and reaped the rewards.

The lanky pacer, who grabbed seven wickets in the match and six of these were top-order stalwarts, had good support from Razzaq and Akhtar who took only three wickets, but bowled aggressively and intimidated the batsmen with a liberal dose of short-pitched balls.

And when the path became strewn with hurdles the Indian superstars showed feet of clay. Apart from Yuvraj Singh to a large extent— with a 45 in the first knock and a valiant century in the second— and to a smaller extent Sourav Ganguly, none had the stomach for a fight.

Captain Rahul Dravid had a forgettable match with the bat after having been in supreme form in the first two Tests at Lahore and Faisalabad where he scored back-to-hack hundreds on featherbeds.

The Indian skipper just lacked sufficient practice on more helpful wickets in the earlier part of the series to get out to the balls bowled in the corridor of uncertainty.

The cheap dismissals of Dravid, who chose to open the innings in all three Tests, and Sehwag, who never applied himself and tried expansive shots, truly put the visitors on the back foot from which they never recovered.

If the batting flopped in both the innings, the bowling— after looking devastating in the first hour of the match— just failed to impress thereafter, lacking in discipline if not effort.

Irfan Pathan gave a sensational start to the match by getting a world record first-over Test hat-trick before being rendered innocuous by the Pakistani batsmen while Zaheer Khan and Rudra Pratap Singh simply paled in comparison to Asif.

Dravid defended his bowlers after the match saying "we could have bowled better, but we could have batted better too".

But the fact which emerged was that on a pitch where the ball was darting around alarmingly, the Indian bowlers just could not tighten the noose on the Pakistanis in the first innings after having them on the ropes punch-drunk at none for 3 and then 39 for six.

The Indian seam attack was really exposed in the second innings when the hosts went hammer and tongs at them with the top seven batsmen crossing the 50s, another first in Test cricket, with the young Faisal Iqbal— drafted into the squad as a cover for the unfit Inzamam-ul Haq— completing his maiden hundred to boot.

Coach Greg Chappell said after the third day's play— by which time Pak had raced to 511 for 5 in only 127 overs— that "there was no seam or swing" for the bowlers.

But on the very next day Asif and Razzaq utilized the same wicket conditions to get lot of seam movement to cause another Indian collapse in just over four hours. It very clearly showed the paucity of ideas in the Indian bowlers' heads and also exposed their lack of pace.

In fact, Anil Kumble looked the best Indian bowler on view though the wicket did not suit him at all. The three left-arm pace men just looked out of sorts in the second essay and the sameness in the way all three bowled made them innocuous.

Pakistan captain Younis Khan said that his team's attack definitely had more variety than the Indians' pace attack, with a genuine fast bowler in Akhtar to soften up the batsmen for Asif and Razzaq to gobble up with their movement off the pitch at good pace.

Dravid admitted after the humiliating 341-run loss that the Indian bowlers "could have hit the deck a bit more to get some more (purchase) out of the wicket".

This statement itself is a big admission about the new ball trio's inabilities, on a wicket that was tailor-made for them, shown up starkly by the score of 599 for seven ran up by the Pakistanis in the second innings which put the match simply out of India's hands.

The Indian pacers' ineffectiveness, in the end, made the crucial difference to the outcome of the match.

First Published: Feb 02, 2006 14:13 IST