A hurricane called Abdul Razzaq

Sep 09 2006

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NOTTINGHAM, Sept 8: The white ball swings more than its red equivalent, by all accounts, and Abdul Razzaq swings better than both of them. Those testimonies were proved correct on a perfect cloudless day at Trent Bridge. Swinging conditions are a good measure of the progress of Pakistan's batsmen and the verdict on this outing is that they could do much better.

Winning the toss promised to be an open invitation to bat and an ideal launch pad for Shahid "Boom Boom" Afridi — a deception that worked on Inzamam-ul-Haq — but it turned out to be a boomerang.

It was left to Boom Boom's demolition partner Razzaq to propel Pakistan to 235 with an exhilarating crescendo of sixes, a performance that might earn him a call if NASA ever requires a rocket launcher.

When the Razzler finishes an innings like this — and he has done it many times — he is simply sensational. The cleverness in his technique is that he clears his front leg out of the way to allow him to swing his arms freely and powerfully to thrash the ball over the infield.

Razzaq's brilliant assault left Pakistan supporters in a state of near delirium and England shell-shocked. Andrew Strauss had controlled proceedings until the final five overs but the Razzler razzle-dazzled five sixes and wrenched back the psychological advantage for Pakistan with hitting of such brutality that Viv Richards would have approved.

Jon Lewis, in particular, swung the ball so alarmingly at the start that the cream of Pakistan's batsmen played as if they had accepted an invitation to a fishing competition on Nottingham's River Trent.

First Mohammad Hafeez and then Younis Khan — a man who either gets nought or a century — fell to Lewis's slip cordon. Boom Boom tried earnestly to follow suit but despite also being put down at third man he failed to capitalise on his good fortune and copped one that kept low from Sajid Mahmood.

The stage and the conditions looked heaven sent for Boom Boom, and as if recognising his bounty, he launched his first scoring shot for six straight over the head of Stuart Broad. A viscous square-cut and a clip off his legs for four hinted at a Boom Boom spectacular.

Alas, it was not meant to be, although by the end of the innings his effort looked a reasonable one. But Afridi — like Razzaq — is a man who I would have in my one-day team every time. He fails, of course, but when he boom booms he wins you a match, a gambler's delight, the kind of player that Pakistan must always deploy during a power play on the flatter wickets of India and West Indies.

Expect plenty of Boom Boom and Razzler shows over the next eight months.

Once the light beard of Boom Boom had been vanquished, the thicker exhibits of Inzamam and Mohammad Yousuf produced a sharply contrasting rescue act. Inzamam wanted to hurry, particularly off his legs where he has perfected a bizarre pull-shot that has him bent double with his head a mile outside the line of the ball.

His partner, Yousuf, looks to have inherited Javed Miandad's mantle as the man who tries to bat out the innings. Hence it was fitting that Yousuf surpassed Javed's tally in one-day cricket. Shame, though, that he overtook Pakistan's one-day past master with his most dismal innings of the summer.

At least his whole tour has not been ruined like that of Shoaib Malik, whose duck added to arguments for the return of Imran Farhat at Edgbaston. It might be prudent to allow Malik an opportunity to put this tour behind him and return afresh in the Champions Trophy.

Other than Razzaq and Inzamam, Pakistan's batsmen looked horribly out of sorts here - a team ready to go home. Stupefied by swing and then even more stupefied by spin, this was a disappointing performance that lacked focus and urgency.

In Pakistan's defence Trent Bridge offered a spiteful, deceitful pitch that did nothing for a batsman's confidence and strokeplay. Yet genuine contenders for Australia's crown have to be able to win in all circumstances, and Pakistan's Razzler sent a message that it might just be possible.