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    January 20, 2006

    Preview, 2nd test, Pakistan vs. India

    Iqbal Stadium, the venue for the 2nd test, is so named after the legendary South Asian poet Allama Mohammad Iqbal. Faislabad it self (formerly, until 1979, Lyallpur) is a large, busy city of considerable vigour. Founded as early as 1890, it is now the 3rd largest city in Pakistan, behind Karachi and Lahore. Cricket wise this is a city that is famous for being infamous.

    In 1987 it was the sight for the Shakoor Rana-Mike Gating affair, and last year, again versus England, the sight of Afridi’s ‘moment of madness’ and one of the most controversial run outs in test cricket history. Less scandalously, off late, Faisalabad and cricket here, immediately bring to mind the name of Wolves. Not wolves, as in either of three extant species of wild dog Canis lupus but Wolves as in the Faisalabad Wolves, a domestic 20 twenty cricket side. A champion domestic side I should add.

    This young team of Faisalabad’s, led by former Pakistani opener Naved Latif, and buoyed on by the heroics of another out-of-favor Pakistani opener, Mohammad Hafeez, won the inaugural domestic 20 over competition in Pakistan early last year, in what was a bit of a Cinderella story for not only the Faisalabad team it self, but the whole concept of Domestic Cricket. It was an extraordinary success, overnight obscurity turned to nationwide recognition.

    Much like its domestic team, the city too is full of energy. Outside of cricket, Faisalabad is a prominent for its many industries; chemicals, synthetics, food products, and most famously, textiles. No place in Pakistan produces more cotton then does Faisalabad, fetching it the nickname ‘Manchester of Pakistan’ from geologists, after Manchester in the UK, which is renowned for its enormous cotton industry.

    It has a rapidly growing population, which at heart, like any other city in this country, is fascinated by the game. Cricket, they say, is a great leveler, in Pakistan, and indeed through out the rest of the Sub continent, this is one of the big reasons why the sport enjoys such unprecedented popularity.

    Disparity between rich and poor, sadly, is one of the most recognizable characteristics of large metropolises here, and if some experts are to be believed it’s growing. Cricket as such becomes a bonding factor, something that runs through the length and breath of the county, through out different social, regional and religious classes.

    Faisalabad’s social discrepancy might not be as widespread as that of Lahore or Karachi, given it’s relatively a smaller city, but the affect cricket has on its populace is identical. In fact, it might be argued, given the numbers that turned up to watch the 2nd test vs. England here last November, that Faisalabadis are amongst the more passionate fans in the country, or at least, that there are far fewer number of arm chairs fans here then there are in larger cities like Lahore and Karachi.

    Not only was Iqbal Stadium full or close to fall in almost all five days against England, it was admirably sporting and calm. A gas can had exploded here on day 2 then, leading to an explosion at the square boundary that hurt one spectator and burst through some advertising hoardings.

    The incident was handled with such professionalism by the Faisalabad security officials and matched by as much equanimity by the spectators that less then 20 minutes were wasted altogether and the cricket resumed thereafter. In another day, another city, another time, a whole day, if worse, whole tests or tours could have been called off as a result.

    It is very apt thus, that after the monotony of Lahore, the series should progress to Faisalabad. A draw nearly always means supporters and journalists spend the time between tests debating who won more brownie points, psychological advantage, as some experts call it. This test was no different. Some people might argue the Lahore pitch was so flat it left rendered any analysis, and that of the bowling in particular, useless.

    But I personally think both teams are professional enough to know pitches can’t be used as excuses, not wholly at least. If you take a look at the pitch maps for both India and Pakistan’s innings, you’ll see an abnormally large number of short balls, short-wide balls, leg stump half volleys, over pitched balls, half trackers and numerous other forms of gift balls. The pitch was flat, but bowlers on either side were guilty of feeding batsmen on their strengths, this made batting look easier then it was.

    No doubt a livelier surface could have helped their cause at Lahore, but even on a better surface, without an improvement in application and consistency, both India and Pakistan will struggle again in Faisalabad. The bowlers from either side need to be honest with themselves, ex players have empathized with them, fans with sympathized, but a dead pitch is no justification for bowling crap, quite simply, the need to bowl better.

    Apparently, India (or their supporters at least) feel that they've got the upper hand. I don't mind Pakistan being tipped the underdogs, my theory is that we play better in such scenarios. The form of Sehwag is obviously the BIG worry for Pakistan, but the bigger bad news, I think, is the weather.

    Much like in Lahore, it hasn’t been ideal leading up to the test tomorrow. But given just how much discussion Lahore’s benign surface led to, you have to feel the groundsman here won’t be talking any half measures. Eye witness accounts available have confirmed a slightly under baked surfaced covered mostly in straw-coloured grass. Predicating the nature of the pitch on the eve of a test match is very much a flawed science, anything, and even dramatic changes can take place tomorrow.

    Agha Zahid, the head PCB curator, who has been supervising the preparation of this pitch for the last fortnight, told reporters yesterday that he had his “fingers crossed”. So has the entire nation, Zahid. For the sake of Cricket alone the pitch ought to be an improvement on the last one. Here’s hoping it will be a great test.

    PS: An alternate preview, which I posted over at Sundries, can be viewed here
    Thus spake Zainub Razvi @ 10:43 PM |
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