The Faisalabad Test will go down in the annals of history as another run-feast. But as I see the game, I fear this may just be the beginning of the end of Sachin Tendulkar, the man we all respect, adore and love because of his tremendous natural talent and humble attitude.
The more I look back at his dismissal, the more convinced I get that the downhill journey for the little champion has started because it has been established that, according to the laws of the game, he was not out as the ball had made contact with the right glove that was not in play.
What is even more mind blowing is that he did not look at the umpire and immediately started his long walk towards the pavilion.
I am not willing to buy the theory that Sachin did not know the laws of the game. If Michael Kasprowicz knows them, then I am sure that after playing for 16 years at the highest level and having led his country for a couple of years, Sachin knows all the rules by heart.
Then what prompted Sachin to leave the pitch on which six centuries and two 90s were scored? Hostile bowling by Shoaib Akhtar, or the tension-filled dressing room atmosphere that often gets on the nerves of batsmen who start feeling suffocated?
Whatever may be the real reason, the fact of the matter is that Shoaib literally exposed Sachin's present-day ability against quality fast bowling during a spell that will certainly be remembered for long.
Even on a dead track, Shoaib was charging in at Sachin, bending his back and putting all his energy into his deliveries. One could see those terrifying, hungry and wild look in the eyes of Shoaib when he reached Sachin at handshaking distance on his follow-through.
As a wicketkeeper, Sachin's controversial dismissal also reminded me of a few batsmen who preferred walking off the pitch on their legs rather than being carried away on stretchers when the great Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were at their brilliant best. I wish I am wrong in my assessment of Sachin, but, at least, that is the impression he has left after his Faisalabad outing.
May be when he takes an emotional walk in the National Stadium, the desire of continuing for a few more years with distinction and merit will be re-ignited. But for the moment, the Sachin I saw batting at Faisalabad was certainly a shadow of the Sachin who courageously faced and ruthlessly punished the greatest bowlers of the past decade.
Having watched Shoaib's dedication and commitment, I feel sorry that he is not getting more conducive pitches as the wickets prepared for the first two Tests were highly biased towards batsmen. But at the same time it is pleasing to note that it is Pakistan's negative strategy and the curators' poor craftsmanship that is under the scanner and not Shoaib's attitude and approach.
Rudra Pratap Singh won the man-of-the-match for his five wickets in the batsman-dominated Test, but the left-arm pacer's inclusion does not entirely absolve Rahul Dravid of the criticism he is getting for dropping Sourav Ganguly. Dravid contradicted himself by including Sourav for the Lahore Test citing his experience but then picking an inexperienced Yuvraj Singh as the fifth specialist batsmen for Faisalabad.
You can gamble with an inexperienced batsman when playing with a six-four-one combination but when you decide to take the field with a five-five-one combination, the margin for error is little and consequently you prefer to pick the men in-form. In the present scenario, probably most would have voted for Sourav because of his experience after both failed to get a chance to bat in Lahore.
For me, the best performer of the match was Mahendra Singh Dhoni who scored a sizzling 148, but more importantly, pulled the Indian team out of dire straits and earned a slender but important 15-run first innings lead.
Dhoni was all at sea against Shoaib earlier on but when he was out of the attack, he put the Pakistan bowling to sword. The way he presents himself, walks and bats, I think cricket desperately needs entertaining characters like him to make the sport more glamorous and attract more crowds. He may be unorthodox in technique, but who cares when he scores like that.
The fielding of both teams remained below par. On a wicket where bowlers are at the mercy of batsmen, the fielders need to be alert and convert the half chances into wickets. But unfortunately, only Yuvraj and Danish Kaneria managed to pulled off stunners while VVS Laxman, Imran Farhat, and Kamran Akmal dropped sitters.
There has been a debate on Pakistan's decision to bat out the entire fifth day. Although I believe Pakistan should have given the Indians at least 35 overs to bat, their decision to opt for batting practice makes more sense.
At lunch, Pakistan's lead was not big and by the time they batted India out of the match, there was no time left. Shoaib is already carrying a niggle in his ankle and it would have been fatal had he aggravated his injury during that period.
The other thing Pakistan might have thought was to tire the Indian bowlers so much that they felt the strain and pressure in the third Test.
All said and done, seeing the cricket played in the first two Tests, I am glad I am not part of it although it is still a pain to watch.
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