Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pakistan vs. India, 3rd Test, Day 4

Hello and welcome to Rs. 5’s coverage of day 4 of the third test between India and Pakistan. We join the action a little bit into the day because I’m recovering from jet lag and woke up late. All times are local (i.e. Pakistan time).

9:20 a.m. Wow, it’s been a while since I got to watch live cricket on a TV and not a tiny laptop screen. And who better to welcome me back than Arun Lal and Rameez Raja? By the way, the field for Irfan Pathan, according to Arun Lal, has a 7-2 “bias” for the off-side. Anyway, Pakistan get to 382-5 on a streaky shot by Akmal, still a staggering 244 runs behind India.

9:26 a.m. This Sharma chap really needs a haircut. He looks like a casting mistake from a bad 80s movie.

9:32 a.m. Pathan jags one back to Misbah and hits him on the hand. I know I’ve made my fair share of jokes at Pathan’s expense, but if I’m an Indian fan, it’s nice to see him swinging it that far at this point in the game. One thing the failings of this Pakistan team has shown me is that for teams not named Australia, an all-rounder is so, so important. If he can bowl 15-20 mildly threatening overs in a day’s play and bat the way he can at six or seven, India would benefit immensely going forward.

9:36 a.m. Change in the commentary team! Praise the Lord. Bishop and Shiva in.

9:39 a.m. Misbah guides Bad Haircut through gully for four. Lots of boundaries in the last fifteen minutes or so. It’s also (pleasantly) hilarious to hear Bish tell us that “you can’t give width to players as good as Misbah”. Did anyone ever think that we’d hear the phrase “players as good as Misbah”?

9:44 a.m. Pathan goes past Akmal’s edge twice in a row. Pathan’s bowling well here. I think there is something to be said about the power of ridicule propelling players to greater heights. Exhibit A: Pathan. Exhibit B: Ganguly and his buckets of runs. What I’m trying to say is: you’re welcome, India. I know you couldn’t have done it without me.

9:49 a.m. Akmal plays a delightful late cut to Harbajhan. Gets just two but that was a great shot. Against the turn, fourth day pitch, with a short third in place. It’s clear to anyone who knows cricket that this guy has oodles of talent with the bat. It’s also clear that he’s completely forgotten how to keep. I think we should try and Sangakarra him (i.e. make him give up his gloves, at least in test cricket, and see just how good he could be while exclusively a batsman). I honestly think he could average 45 as a number six. Now close your eyes and answer the following question: who would you rather have while chasing a score/staving off defeat/setting a target: Akmal or Shoaib Malik? That’s what I thought.

9:57 a.m. Another boundary, this time an Akmal paddle off Harbajhan. Score’s up to 417 in quick time.

10:14 a.m. Really interesting passage of play here. Kumble on, and he always looks threatening. Aamir Sohail commentating, and he always sounds borderline insane. Akmal looks kind of flaky; Misbah looks as solid as a rock. Which, of course, means that Misbah will be the next wicket to fall.

10:20 a.m. Pakistan save the follow on. To let Zeyd know I’m back, I text him: “Misbah, Akmal look for the win”. He calls back and while we’re talking, Akmal’s stumped. Idiot. Alright Yasir Arafat, let’s see what you have. By the way, if Yasir Arafat wasn’t an international cricketer, do you think he’d ever get a visa for any country in the world?

10:34 a.m. Misbah plays a gorgeous on drive off Kumble for four. That was beautiful, it really was. I don’t believe our jackass selectors have been messing around with the Faisal Iqbals and Hasan Razas of the world while this guy was toiling away in our domestic cricket. What a travesty.

10:40 a.m. I predict Arafat won’t survive to lunch. Let’s see.

10:42 a.m. The phone rings and complete bedlam ensues in my house. I don’t even know where to start so I won’t bother.

10:45 a.m. Consecutive boundaries for Arafat, the first (a cut through backward point) infinitely more convincing than the second (an edge just past Laxman’s outstretched hand). Pakistan up to 454-6.

10:51 a.m. Harbajhan and Kartik go up for a catch behind off Misbah. I can promise you that he did Mis-that-bah a mile. Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week.

10:56 a.m. Arafat late cuts Kumble twice in two balls. 8 more, and we’re up to 465. You know, it may not be the most difficult pitch in the world (it’s definitely not the easiest though), but we’ve batted really well here. I mean for three tests we’ve been playing catch up and almost always, our batsmen have responded, even when chasing mammoth totals. I’m not saying our batting has a settled look to it or anything, but it bears mentioning that many Pakistani teams in the past would have folded when chasing 500, 600 odd like we have been in this series, even if the pitches weren’t difficult.

11:01 a.m. Three Yuvraj deliveries to go before lunch and Misbah on 98. Will he get there? He gets a single to third man. Come on, Arafat, tap it and run.

11:02 a.m. Arafat taps it and runs. Field comes in.

11:03 a.m. Misbah will go into lunch on 99. Rameez calls Arafat “a gallant partner for Misbah-ul-Haq”. Gallant?

11:04 a.m. Alright, see you guys in 40.

12:12 p.m. Sorry for the 30 minute delay. My cable was out. Fucking World Call. Anyway, we’re up to 508-6, with Misbah well past his hundred (122) and Arafat giving able support. Bad Haircut into the attack.

12:14 p.m. Shiva and Aamir Sohail are having fun playing with the interactive arrow thing to show where Pakistan have scored their runs. Commentators can be real kids sometimes, especially with technology.

12:16 p.m. Bad Haircut sort of reminds me of Sajid Mahmood. His build, action, and stock delivery (short of a length, coming in) are quite similar to Jayasuriya’s favorite bowler. He’s not as quick as Saj though, at least on the evidence of two hours of play, but that will change as he builds into his body. Looks a decent prospect for my mind.

12:18 p.m. Terrible ball by Kumble. Half way down the pitch on leg stump. Arafat helps himself to four through midwicket. Score’s up to 512.

12:23 p.m. Cable’s out again. Un-fucking-believable. Apparently it’s been acting up for a few weeks now. Pakistan: Where Independent Judiciaries And Cable Just Don’t Work.

12:36 p.m. Cable’s back, and Arafat pushes Pathan through midwicket for four. Zeyd texts: “What a shot by arafat”. Um, Zeyd, shouldn’t you be, you know, working at work? Anyway, we’re up to 524-6.

12:42 pm. Zeyd texts: “Watch how sami is preferred the next time we play”. He’s another one we should Sangakarra. Let’s make him a stodgy opening batsman to partner Butt. Clearly this whole “fast bowling” thing isn’t working for him.

12:43 p.m. Zionists all over the world rejoice as Arafat is gone. Played on to Bad Haircut. Solid contribution.

12:45 p.m. Supersport runs an ad for its clothing supplier Woolworths. Uh, thanks guys, but the day I start dressing like the Supersport guys is the day my fiancée suddenly discovers that she’s not allowed to marry a non-Shia.

12:49 p.m. Rameez and Arun Lal are back, regaling us with…God, I don’t know, I’m not really listening. I did just hear Rameez say that “manufacturing, or making, a pitch is an art.” Evidently, so is manufacturing a sentence.

12:56 p.m. Bad Haircut gets Sami with a low full toss. I think Sami lost that one in the crowd because he reacted like he thought it was a beamer or something. He clearly didn’t spot that one. Bollywood Shoaib in.

1:03 p.m. Misbah is dancing around in the crease, trying to manipulate the strike. Rameez tells Shoaib to watch out for the quicker one. Shoaib inside edges to vacant square leg and takes a single off the last ball of the over, thus rendering Misbah’s strike manipulation completely redundant.

1:06 p.m. Shoaib lobs a dolly to short leg off one that stayed really low. Bad Haircut has three wickets in less than half an hour here. Nine down and in comes Dani and his 9.62 average.

1:09 p.m. Kaneria smashes, just smashes his first ball through mid-off for four. He follows that with another slog that gets an under edge to Kartik. Even Rameez is laughing. Zeyd texts: “Damn it. We need at least 30 more”. I reply: “Let’s see. Dani might get us there in 5 balls”.

1:13 p.m. Misbah shimmies down and carves Kumble over midwicket for four. He’s up to 133.

1:16 p.m. Bad Haircut gets Dani with a short one that he had no idea about, and ends up with 5 for the innings, throwing his hat in the Zaheer/Sreesanth/R.P Singh/Munaf Patel ring for the Australian tour. Misbah remains unbeaten, and the umpires decide to take tea.

1:34 p.m. In the Pakistan huddle, Shoaib is wearing his cap back to front. Sigh.

1:35 p.m. Gambhir and Jaffer walk out with a lead of 89 behind them.

1:36 p.m. Shoaib to open the bowling with 3 slips, a gully and a short leg.

1:37 p.m. Alright, here we go. Can Pakistan pull something out of less than nothing?

1:38 p.m. Shoaib’s first ball flies through to Akmal, without him putting in any effort whatsoever. This pitch is terrible.

1:39 p.m. Shoaib beats Jaffer’s outside edge. The best thing about having Faisal Iqbal in the team is his endless supplies of “oye, hoye, hoye!” and “aye, yaaaaaar!”

1:40 p.m. Another one flies through, as Akmal takes it two feet above his head.

1:42 p.m. Gambhir’s not lasting here. I give him till 2:07.

1:45 p.m. Shoaib is making some indecipherable gestures toward the dressing room. I can only presume that he’s unfit. Heroic assumption, yes?

1:46 p.m. My lunch is here while the physio comes out for Shoaib. Unless something important happens, no updates for the next 20 minutes.

1:47 p.m. Turns out Shoaib isn’t unfit. He just wants a stuffed animal (from the looks of it, it’s a leopard) from the dressing room. I swear to you I’m not kidding. Bruce Yardley and Aamir Sohail are trying to make sense of this. Don’t bother, guys. Seriously, don’t bother.

2:04 p.m. Rameez and Shiva are passing one lame comment after another. Shoaib and Sami haven’t looked particularly threatening. Jaffer and Gambhir have looked solid. And I’m about to poke my own eyes out.

2:07 p.m. Sami sprays down leg, four. Now think about how many times the words “Sami sprays down leg, four” have been said and written in the last five years. Anyway, India’s lead is past 100.

2:09 p.m. Man, I miss Gully and Asif.

2:12 p.m. GONE! Shoaib follows two 150 km/h balls with a slower one from around the wicket, and Gambhir is done. My 1:42 prediction was off by a mere five minutes. Man, I’m good.

2:15 p.m. The Wall is hopping. The Wall, by the way, has to open in Australia for India to have a chance. More on this later.

2:18 p.m. I feel really bad for Bishop, being stuck with these jokers. From Rameez to Arun Lal to Shiva to Aamir Sohail, Pakistan-India series always seem to attract the biggest retards in the commentary business.

2:19 p.m. Zeyd texts: “Why is sami bowling? Please give yousuf the ball”. I think it’s safe to say our good friend Zeyd has reached the end of his Sami rope. I also think it’s safe to say Zeyd is being overpaid for whatever work he’s supposed to be doing.

2:24 p.m. Shoaib is clearly tiring here. You can see it written it in the pained expression on his face as he’s running in. Great over to Dravid though. Had him jumping, poking and fending.

2:30 p.m. The cameras show Venkatesh Prasad talking to Bad Haircut. I wonder if Venky and Aamir Sohail ever sit down and have a nice long chat about life.

2:31 p.m. Sania Mirza sighting. The chick in front of her is considerably cuter.

2:32 p.m. Arafat replaces Shoaib. Wicket to wicket stuff so far, which should be pretty effective given how ridiculously low the ball is staying.

2:42 p.m. GONE! Arafat gets Jaffer with one that stays low and traps him plumb in front. India two down. I text Zeyd: “I think sami has two important wickets in him. Just a hunch.” I can practically hear him scoff.

2:53 p.m. Dravid drives Arafat through the covers for four. Easy as you like, and India’s lead is up to 122 with about 30-odd overs to go in the day.

2:56 p.m. Ganguly top-edges a pull off Sami for four. Poor Sami.

3:05 p.m. Shoaib back into the attack, and Ganguly welcomes him with a Lara-drive through the covers. That got to the boundary in less than a second.

3:07 p.m. Another one, this one off the back foot and through gully. If you’re going to bowl across Ganguly, you better swing or seam it – otherwise, he’s going to cream you all day.

3:08 p.m. Shoaib decides to come around the wicket. Way down the leg-side and Akmal makes a great diving save on the bounce.

3:11 p.m. Ganguly drives Arafat gloriously through point for four. He’s going at more than a run a ball. When he’s on, he’s on.

3:13 p.m. Four more, followed by one that goes underneath Ganguly’s bat and missed the off-stump by the proverbial coat of varnish. Of course, he smashes the next one behind point for four, and India’s lead is up to 151.

3:18 p.m. The more time I spend thinking about it, the more astounding Ganguly’s return gets. About 30 months ago, he was being embarrassed by Afridi and Kaneria and struggled to grind out meaningless centuries against Zimbabwe. He had a coach who didn’t like him, a vicious media, an unforgiving opposition, and no guarantee of a return to the Indian team ever again. Now he looks primed and ready for anything Australia throw at him next month. I’m actually struggling to think of a bigger and more impressive turnaround in cricket. I’m sure there are some, I just can’t think of any off the top of my head.

3:25 p.m. Dani into the attack. Ganguly is really going to go after him. You can that to the bank.

3:33 p.m. As the camera pans to Sania Mirza again, Arun Lal informs us: “That’s a pretty face.”

3:36 p.m. Dani is such a jackass. So he beats Ganguly with one that stays low and goes straight. Ganguly sort of loses his balance, trying to cut it, and backpedals away from the crease. Dani takes the opportunity to sledge Ganguly, saying something to the effect of (my lip-reading is kind of weak) “haan, bhaag” [yeah, run]. Next ball, Ganguly takes two steps down the track and effortlessly deposits Dani straight over the sightscreen.

3:41 p.m. My mum yells from downstairs: “Are you back to just watch cricket?” It’s a legitimate question.

3:43 p.m. Right, so Arun Lal and Aamir Sohail have brought it up, so I’ll deal with it now, especially as there’s kind of a lull in play. India don’t have a great shot in Australia. They don’t even have a good shot. But they have a shot. They absolutely have a shot. The only way, however, that they have a shot is play (a) their six best batsmen and (b) maximize the number of players in their team with big balls. Both (a) and (b) can be fulfilled if Yuvraj plays. He has to play because he oozes talent, and because he’s got a huge set of balls. There’s simply no question in my mind. He has to play. So what to do? It’s simple really, though I’d almost be willing to bet my life India won’t do this.

Open with Dravid.

Look, if you open with either Kartik or Gambhir, Dravid’s going to be the de facto opener anyway, because neither of those two is lasting more than seven overs of the new ball. Dravid has the technique to open. He has the mental strength to open. He certainly has the willingness to open, because he’s the ultimate team player. And if he opens, you move Australia’s worst nightmare (Laxman) up to three, and you are able to play perhaps the most awesome batting lineup that I’ve ever seen:

Jaffer (in form)
Dravid (brilliant player)
Laxman (Australia’s bogeyman)
Tendulkar (brilliant player)
Ganguly (in form)
Yuvraj (in form, big balls)
Dhoni (huge balls)

Just look at that lineup. How do you not play that lineup? Seriously. If India want to do anything in Australia, they’ve got to open with Dravid and play Yuvraj. Do that, and they must just be good enough to spring a surprise on everyone.

3:53 p.m. India, meanwhile, have moved on to 97-2. The lead is 186, and Pakistan are now guaranteed of losing this series.

4:04 p.m. Ganguly brings up his 50 with a glide to third man off Sami. Dravid taps his shoulder and shakes his hand. I shake my head: Ganguly? I still can’t believe he’s back scoring runs.

4:09 p.m. Bruce Yardley and Shiva discuss the Dravid opening/Yuvraj point. As Shiva says, it helps that Kumble, a senior player who has the respect of a guy like Dravid, is captain. Shiva also doesn’t mind Sachin opening with Dravid at three. I wouldn’t want that, because Sachin’s never been an opener or a one-down batsman and Dravid has. Plus it takes a certain type of temperament to open against Australia in a test match, a temperament Dravid has and Sachin doesn’t. Anyway, that’s my two cents on the issue. Guess we’ll know one way or the other in a fortnight’s time.

4:16 p.m. India’s lead, by the way, has crept past 200. They’re up by 204. If they want to send a message to Australia, they’ll declare half an hour into the first session tomorrow, leaving us with 250 to win in 80 overs on a truly terrible pitch.

4:30 p.m. The day ends up with both Dravid and Ganguly glancing Shoaib to fine-leg for four. India finish the day about 220 ahead. Barring cable disasters, I should be back providing full coverage to day 5. For now, from the couch in my TV lounge, it’s good night and good luck.

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