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Dawn India v Pakistan (Asia Test Championship)
Samiul Hasan - 16-20 February 1999

Day 1: Moin's defiant knock saves Pakistan from collapse

CALCUTTA, Feb 16: Wasim Akram won the toss and lost the initial advantage against India in the Asian Test Championship opener at the picturesque Eden Gardens on Tuesday. Electing to bat first on a hard, bouncy and seaming track, Akram's decision badly backfired as Pakistan slipped from 15 for no wicket to 26 for six in nine overs. Only a rearguard defiance led by an inspiring knock of 70 by vice-captain Moin Khan saved the tourists blushes as the visitors were dismissed for 185 in 76.2 overs.

India, by the close of play, had strengthened its grip on the Test by reaching 26 for one before an 80,000 but disciplined, festive and sporting crowd. Venkatesai Laxman (5) was the batsman to be dismissed when his middle stump was sent cart wheeling by a Shoaib Akhtar express. When the closure was applied, Sadagoppan Ramesh (17) and nightwatchman Anil Kumble were at the crease.

Akram's decision to bat first came as a big surprise in the background that Eden Gardens has a history of assisting the seamers in the first session of the play. To put his struggling and out of form batsmen in and expect that they would survive the testing period was too big an expectation by the Pakistan captain.

The think tank of the Pakistan management also didn't take into account that the batting had further weakened by the absence of Inzamam-ul-Haq who failed a fitness test early in the morning to allow Salim Malik sneak into the side. Wajahatullah Wasti was given a Test cap and Azhar Mahmood was included in place of Waqar Younis to bolster the batting order. But the tactic didn't work as Wasti turned out to be nothing but a bundle of nerves and Mahmood emerged as a liability lasting for just six balls before finding his middle stump uprooted by Javagal Srinath.

Srinath, a great opportunist as he is, fully capitalized on Akram's highly debatable decision to rout the Pakistan top order and finish with splendid figures of five for 46 in 19 overs, including four wickets in 23 balls conceeding three runs.

Venkatesh Prasad assisted him well to pick up the scalps of Saeed Anwar and Wajahatullah Wasti to end up with two for 27. Anil Kumble, who came here after taking 10 wickets for 74 runs at New Delhi, just managed the wicket of Shoaib Akhtar.

Had it not been a courageous fight back by Moin Khan, Pakistan might have been dismissed well inside their lowest ever score of 62 against Australia at Perth in 1981-82 after more than half the side was back in the dressing room in just 45 minutes of play.

Together with former captain Salim Malik (32), Moin added 84 runs for the seventh wicket in 192 minutes to give some respectability to the innings. The partnership ended on the second ball after tea when Malik was caught behind off Srinath after scoring a shaky 32 from 140 balls with four fours.

With skipper Wasim Akram (38), the wicket-keeper then put on 63 runs for the eighth wicket in 77 minutes.

Moin batted with determination and courage to execute nine boundaries and a six in his 207-ball knock that spanned little under five hours of batting. He showed that Pakistan needed players with big hearts and not stylish stroke-makers to excel in difficult and potential-testing conditions.

It was Moin's 11th Test half century in 45th Test which have already yielded three centuries (117 not out against Sri Lanka at Sialkot in 1995), 116 against Australia at Lahore in 1994 and 105 against England at Leeds in 1996). All the three centuries besides knocks of 98 against Sri Lanka at Colombo in 1997 and 97 against Zimbabwe at Harare last year have come under precarious situations with Pakistan having their backs against the wall. It is chiefly because of these daring knocks that he is considered as a batsman on whom the team can rely on.

Moin, who took 23 minutes and 14 balls to score his first run, achieved his half century in 158 balls with six boundaries and a towering six off Anil Kumble. But Moin had a disappointing end to a spirited innings when he guided the ball into the hands of a waiting Venkatesai Laxman in first slip off Sachin Tendulkar who had been introduced into the attack after Mohammad Azharuddin had run out of options.

Moin's departure triggered a collapse as Pakistan lost their last three wickets for the addition of just 12 runs in 20 balls. Akram, after losing Moin, panicked and atempted to use to the long handle to hole out to substitute Kanitkar off Harbhajan Singh. His 52-ball 38 spiced six boundaries, including three in an over from Kumble, and a six off Singh.

Earlier in the day, the Pakistan top order showed signs of pressure and lack of concentration following the publication of a demoralizing article on Monday.

Shahid Afridi was dismissed off a beauty but Saeed Anwar showed a chicken-heart by trying to play from his crease and ending up being cut into half by Prasad as the ball clipped the bails before going into the gloves of Nayan Mongia. Ijaz Ahmad, a pale shadow of what he was last year, lived upto his reputation was a nervous starter when he was beaten by the pace and swing to be trapped right in front of the wicket on the backfoot. Wasti faced eight balls without really moving much of his feet to be caught behind and Yousuf Youhana attempted an over ambitious cover drive to be smartly held by Mohammad Azharuddin in the third slip.

After the opening day's play, India definitely find themselves in the driving seat though they might feel that they let Pakistan off the hook after reducing the tourists to 26 for six. But cricket was definitely at its best with Srinath firing all cylinder in the morning and Moin Khan leading a spirited fight back for Pakistan in the afternoon when the wicket had eased down but the pressure being still there.

Day 2: Shoaib rocks Indian batting with deadly bowling

CALCUTTA, Feb 17: Shoaib Akhtar bowled with electrifying speed to pull Pakistan back in contention with India in the Asian Test Championship fixture at the Eden Gardens on Wednesday.

Akhtar, playing his ninth Test, rocked the Indian middle-order in two successive balls as the home team crashed out for 223 from 147 for two after night-watchman Anil Kumble had hung around for 82 minutes on the second morning to add 65 runs for the second wicket and the third wicket partnership between Sadagoppan Ramesh and Rahul Dravid had yielded 56 runs.

Pakistan, though surrendered a 38-run first innings lead, had reached 26 for one at stumps on the second day. Saeed Anwar benefited from a dropped catch by Mohammad Azharuddin to be 12 at stumps. With him was night-watchman Saqlain Mushtaq who had yet to open his account. The batsman dismissed was Wajahatullah Wasti who played a few attractive shots before being smartly caught by Nayan Mongia off Javagal Srinath down the leg side.

On the first ball after the third break of the day, Akhtar sent Dravid's leg stump on a walk with a high speed yorker. On the following ball, the 23-year-old Rawalpindi-born bowler sent the middle-stump of Sachin Tendulkar cartwheeling with an identical delivery to give the world's best batsman his maiden golden duck.

Akhtar later accounted for Venkatesh Prasad with an express delivery that took the batsman's off stump to finish with high class figures of four for 71. On Tuesday evening, he had uprooted the middle-stump of Venkatesai Laxman.

It was Akhtar's three-over spell that suddenly changed the complexion of play. Skipper Wasim Akram, who was erratic, wayward and pretty short in the morning, earned inspiration from his young gun and dismissed Sadagoppan Ramesh and Mohammad Azharuddin. He later claimed the scalp of Javagal Srinath smartly caught by Moin Khan to finish with three for 65. Akram now has 367 wickets and is closing in fast to overtake Ian Botham's 372 wickets and become fifth leading bowler.

Moin Khan, who scored a spirited 70 on Tuesday to lift Pakistan from 26 for six to 185 all out, showed athletic zest when he ran out Nayan Mongia to deny India secure their second batting point after the home team had got the first at 150.

With both the teams ending the first innings with equal bonus points (1 batting and 4 bowling), the Test is heading for yet another classy and close finish. And the credit, as far as Pakistan is concerned, goes to no one but Shoaib Akhtar whose inspiring spell in the fourth hour boosted the confidence of the tourists who seemed to have lost control of the match after Wasim Akram's decision to bat first.

Akhtar bowled with venom, speed and fire though he still lacked control. But the figures show the other way round. In addition to this, he lacked variety and swing with the new ball.

It was his sheer speed that left Dravid, Tendulkar and the 80,000 odd disciplined crowd shocked. Though Dravid tried to bring his bat down, Tendulkar didn't even get that time as the ball crashed into his middle-stump. The expressions shown by Tendulkar on way back to the dressing told the whole story. His gesture showed that he didn't see the ball properly. It was one of the finest deliveries ever bowled to a new comer and the dismissal of Tendulkar proved it right.

With Akhtar and Akram sharing seven wickets between them, the Pakistan captain must be wondering if his decision to leave out Waqar Younis was correct. Azhar Mahmood was preferred over Younis but he failed with the bat and ball though he conceded just 40 runs from 18 overs besides picking up the wicket of Anil Kumble.

While it was Akhtar from the Pakistan side who stole the honours, it was young Sadagoppan Ramesh who was the star of Indian innings. The 25-year-old left-hander from Chennai scored an excellent 79 before he was adjudged lbw off Akram. Ramesh, who has scores of 43, 5, 60, 96 in this series, batted with great application and concentration to occupy the crease for three-and-a-half hours. He faced 167 balls out of which nine were converted into exquisite boundaries.

Lucky to be caught at 36 by Ijaz Ahmad off a no-ball by Wasim Akram, Ramesh proved the critics wrong who claimed that a batsman with no footwork can excel at the highest level. It was Ramesh's fine reflexes and perfect eye which helped him to pick the line of the ball as early as it left the hand of the bowler.

With Pakistan still 12 runs in arrears, the match is wide open. The wicket has eased out considerably and the way Saeed Anwar batted indicated that the Pakistani stroke-makers have realized their mistakes. Anwar though was beaten very closely on two occasions, applied himself well and kept his bat away from the balls that were swinging away from him. But it is just a start and it has to be seen how far Saeed and the batsmen to go to restrict them from flashing outside the off-stump.

Source: Dawn
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