Records Tumble to Sehwag/Dravid

Asian pitches are, by and large, criticised by the pundits of many other nations: some are branded ‘dead as a dodo’, others written off as ‘doctored dustbowls’. But the wicket used in the First Test in Lahore is one of a new breed, with runs flowing from the bat, at a healthy rate, and bowlers faced with utmost frustration. And is the game any better for it? No, probably not. The records set in the past few days by Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid may catch the untrained eye of the casual observer in years to come, but they do not tell the full, long-winded tale of a dull draw on a tasteless, placid pitch.

That is not to take anything away from the achievements of Sehwag, the bullish cavalier, and Dravid, the stand-in opener. Opening up this morning on 145 without loss, the pair batted throughout a curtailed day, taking their partnership to 403, and threatening Pankaj Roy and Vinoo Mankad’s 50-year-old 413 run record for an opening partnership. On that occasion in Madras, Mankad and Roy had meticulously shredded an immature New Zealand bowling attack. Now Dravid and Sehwag are confronting an ancient milestone, though with more assistance from the playing surface than from the opposition, it must be said.

Sehwag has hammered 46 fours in his unbeaten 247, with only nine piercing the leg-side fence. Any hint of width, be it short or full, spin or seam, was effortlessly crashed to the off-side boundary. The Pakistani bowlers, probably lacking any major incentive, offered little resistance, and a frenzied Sehwag partied on, making the second fastest Test double-hundred of all time.

Dravid meanwhile had firmly settled into his experimental role at the top of the order, though the sheen of the new Kookaburra had long vanished into Sehwag’s fury. He remained as calm and understated as ever, providing the steady support for the more collateral approach of his junior. While his first half-century took 128 deliveries, the second fifty occupied just 78. As he too began to expose the disheartened bowling, the loose deliveries became more and more frequent. Shoaib Ahktar, often expensive and much maligned, proved the most inexpensive of the clueless Pakistanis, though his 15 overs cost three runs apiece.

It will be a relief in hindsight for Pakistan that the day was considerably shortened, with over three hours lost in the entire day, due to a combination of light overnight rainfall and murky conditions. With a draw almost certainly on the cards, both camps will already have one eye on the next Test in Faisalabad. But what can they take into that Test, or out of the current one in the Gaddafi Stadium? Other than a heavily extended net for Younis, Yousuf, Akmal, Afridi, Sehwag and Dravid, very little can be. Neither bowling attack has shown any substance, but may have been better off on a concrete wicket. Are the batsmen able to really say that they have been tested? Have we learnt anything new from the run-fest? No. The Fifth Day now takes on a more psychological sense. If Sehwag and Dravid bat for a substantial proportion of the day, then the Pakistanis will arrive in Faislabad utterly bemused and under severe pressure. But if the home side can break this formidable partnership, and access the underbelly of the Indian batting, Tendulkar and Ganguly in particular, then they could return a telling blow.

Pakistan 679 for 7 declared (143.3 overs)
Younis Khan 199, Mohammad Yousuf 173, Shahid Afridi 103, Kamran Akmal 120*

India 403 for 0 (75 overs)
Virender Sehwag 247* (240), Rahul Dravid 128* (227)

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