Mar 2005: Younis and Virender

Another month passes, and already this year has run a quarter of its course. March has seen players shine with both bat and ball across all three of the month’s Test series. The first rays of light came as no surprise, as South Africa bullied a Zimbabwe side, long since established as unfit for Test cricket, to the extremes of credibility as Jacques Kallis boosted both of his averages and Monde Zondeki made hay against a batting line-up unable to handle either his pace or bounce, despite the battling return of Heath Streak to Zimbabwean colours and lending a facade of respectability to their defeats – the whole series lasting just five days.

At the tail end of the month, Wavell Hinds and Shivnarine Chanderpaul both made first-day centuries for a depleted West Indies side, and continued their accumulation into the opening hours of April, whilst Australia and New Zealand resumed their rivalry as the New Zealand-based Test leg of their mammoth match-up – or, more accurately, the return to the longer format of the game made no difference at all to the seemingly never-ending Australian victory sequence.

Whilst Daniel Vettori played a lone hand with the ball, as the Kiwi seam attack did little more than haemorrhage runs, and Hamish Marshall continued to defy his first-class average and impress all around – in particular with a stroke-filled century in the first Test before becoming the latest unwilling inductee into Shane Warne’s balls of fame, bowled around his legs by the veteran leg-spinner. It wasn’t just Warne, however, who prospered at the expense of his trans-Tasman cousins.

With Brett Lee constantly pressing for a recall to the Test side, the seam trio of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz had extra incentive to perform – but one man starred above all, as he relentlessly hunted down his 500th Test wicket. In tandem with Warne, the Black Caps were never able to dominate as the metronomic, miserly McGrath (18 wickets) cut down the top order time and again before Warne (17 wickets) tied the middle and lower order in knots. With the batting floundering, and New Zealand’s pacemen more often than not profligate, it became even more crucial that the home side maximised any openings they found.

On these rare occasions, however, New Zealand ran unfailingly into Adam Gilchrist. The wicketkeeper-batsman struck two brutal centuries and another fifty, striking 343 runs at an average of 171, and a strike rate of 103, as he further demoralised New Zealand’s already battered bowlers. Whilst the Antipodean rivalry simmered, the apogee of March’s action came on the subcontinent where Pakistan set out to India to avenge last year’s home series defeat, a series where individual performances were to prove so much more crucial due to the intrisically evenly-matched nature of the two teams.

With both sides’ seam attacks resolutely failing to perform, the series’ resolution would come down to whichever team were able to negotiate the opposing spinners most effectively – as was seen on the final day as India spectacularly capitulated to Pakistan’s triple-pronged spin attack. Yet before Shahid Afridi, Danish Kaneria and Arshad Khan could wreak their evening’s havoc, the foundations had to be laid on both sides.

Whilst the opening blows of the series were struck by the Indians, with Rahul Dravid’s brace of centuries in the home side’s triumph at Eden Gardens providing ample support for Anil Kumble’s wrist-spin mastery, the determination of Kamran Akmal, whose maiden Test century at Mohali was the deciding factor in the first Test being shared after India had been in the driving seat for the first four days, with only Kaneria’s nagging leg-spin providing any mooring for the visitors to hold on to.

As India moved ahead in the series at Kolkata, however, the seeds of the Pakistani revival were being sown. Shahid Afridi’s belligerence revitalised the visitors and the under-pressure Younis Khan delivered for the first time in the series, as he and skipper Inzamam provided an appetiser for what was to come at Bangalore. With the Indians 1-0 to the good, Younis Khan produced what will in all likelihood go down as the finest performance of his career.

Even overshadowing Virender Sehwag’s blazing first-innings double century, Younis recorded an altogether more sedate, yet equally imposing innings as he comfortably recorded his highest first-class score, before following it up with a more energetic unbeaten half-century as Pakistan pushed for a match-winning declaration second time around, bringing his efforts to the forefront of player-of-the-month consideration.

However, with Sehwag surpassing Younis’ run-tally in the Indians’ final-day chase, it was still very much game on… until Virender perished, calling an injudicious single, precipitating the Indian collapse and the Pakistani triumph. All told, differentiating between the performances of Sehwag and Younis is near-impossible in many ways that it can be attempted – and whichever way I make the decision I know I’ll upset one country – but all told, it came down to one thing.

One of the two men played a crucial part in bringing his country to tie the series, whilst the other’s efforts, whilst impressive, came in losing causes… with nothing in any second innings. As such, and for want of a better method of differential… March’s player of the month is Younis Khan.

CricketWeb Player of the Month
March 2005

Younis Khan

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