Kaneria's magic spins Pakistan to draw series
by Taha Noor

Ground:Iqbal Stadium, Faisalabad, National Stadium, Karachi
Scorecard:Pakistan v Sri Lanka, Pakistan v Sri Lanka
Player:Danish Kaneria, Younis Khan, Abdul Razzaq, ST Jayasuriya

DateLine: 25th October 2004


The second match of the Paktel Cup two-Test series produced some thrilling cricket, with the home side coming out on top after a courageous fight back from the Sri Lankans. The difference between the two sides in this encounter was Danish Kaneria, who managed to extract sharp spin on a track where other spinners appeared harmless. To bowl a total of 83 economical overs in a span of five days and grab 10 wickets is a testament to the effort put in by the legspinner, who is now a vastly improved bowler after his stint in the English county season.


This short series afforded an ideal opportunity for the selectors to identify members of the Test squad for the tour to Australia later this year, perhaps the ultimate challenge for the side. At the end of the second Test, the team composition seems virtually settled, especially with Abdur Razzaq and Shoaib Malik justifying their places for the longer version of the game. However, there was an evident lack of resources in the fast bowling department in the absence of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Sami. The attack did appear to lack penetration and variety on a flat batting track. The three, Riaz Afridi, Naved-ul-Hasan and Abdur Razzaq, appeared to be no more than military medium and had Kaneria not bamboozled the Sri Lankan batsmen with his wrist spin, Pakistan would have struggled to knock over the tourists.


The Test series may have been shared but the Sri Lankans were the more consistent side while Pakistan relied upon moments of brilliance and inspired performances to draw level. The batting effort put in on the final day chasing a modest 137 was poor, with Razzaq and Malik managing to eke-out victory after the top order had crumbled once again under pressure. This indicates the team lacks self-belief, and is thus unable to apply the finishing touch after putting in a good performance. To label the team as outright 'chokers' would be unjust, but the tendency to crack under pressure persists.


The first Test at Faisalabad was a one-sided affair although in the first innings Pakistan did well to bowl out Sri Lanka cheaply on a flat batting track. Both Akhtar and Sami had a point to prove after suffering severe criticism for their effort in the ODIís. However, the batsmen failed to capitalise on this, and threw away their wickets on a docile track. The Sri Lankans did not repeat their mistakes in the second innings, while the Pakistan batting line-up was still suffering the 'one-day syndrome', showing no intention to bat for extended periods.


With their backs to the wall, after some resultant media criticism, the home side came out all guns blazing in the second and final Test. Although the premier quick bowlers were absent the inexperienced Pakistan attack surprisingly displayed excellent discipline and knocked over the tourists cheaply with some help frpm seamer friendly conditions in Karachi. Razzaq answered his critics in style, and more than justified his place in the squad. One hopes that this was not a mere flash in the pan and he would continue to take on responsibility as a strike bowler, rather than a part time defensive option, when his faster colleagues are being rested.


The revelation of the series was Kaneria and his efforts deserve special praise because it is rare to find a wrist spinner displaying such control over an extended period of time. There were very few loose balls on offer and yet he displayed plenty of variety. He was able to land the googly perfectly to left-handers and at times had the umpires frown while trying to figure him out on appeals. Star batsmen like Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara struggled to pick him from the hand, and continued to play cautiously off the back foot.


Younis Khan put in a great performance after a 13-month absence from Test cricket, and has most likely cemented his place at the crucial number three slot for the series in Australia. He has had opportunities in the past, but this time he was able to grab the chance with his best knock so far. It was also heartening to see Kamran Akmalís energy and enthusiasm behind the stumps. His glove work appeared immaculate as he too grabbed the opportunity on offer while Moin Khan is going through a bad patch with both, bat and gloves.


Pakistan does need to sort out their pace attack line-up quickly, not that there is any lack of candidates, but for the tour to Australia a set of fit fast men is required. While Sami and Akhtar are expected to be fit soon, there is a current lack of bench strength in the absence of the reliable Shabbir Ahmed and Umar Gul. Riaz Afridi and Naved-ul-Hasan lack pace and penetration, and may struggle in Australia conditions as was evident in the second innings at Karachi. There is a need to identify some quick bowlers out of the many doing well in the current domestic season, and groom them to step in for absent main strike bowlers.


It was only fitting that honours were shared between the two teams, with Jayasuriya rightfully being awarded Man-of-the-Series. His performances bear witness to the cricketing proverb 'form is temporary, but class is permanent.'

(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2004 Taha Noor


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