Stephen Fay: Beware that sleepy façade - Inzamam is leading a revolution

'He's like an adder. He looks sleepy, but step on him, he bites'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was not easy to tell under a black beard and a visored helmet, but Inzamam-ul-Haq looked utterly astonished. Normally the most elegant and imperturbable of batsmen, he was standing with his two feet splayed on each side of the stumps. He had moved across his wicket to pull a ball from Liam Plunkett, and misjudged the bounce, which was a little low. It creased him up and then bowled him round his legs. "It was a funny way to get out," said Plunkett afterwards.

This was not how it was supposed to end. Inzamam had come out to bat in the 21st over of the innings. Bob Woolmer, Pakistan's coach, had said the night before that he hoped an old ball would allow Mohammad Yousuf and Inzamam to get in, and "hopefully make hay". It was a good crop: 69 runs, 10 fours, in a stand of 174, taking the Pakistan score from a decidedly dodgy 68 for 4 to 241 for 5, within 88 runs of saving the follow-on.

Inzamam was sweaterless, standing tall, a minimalist who does not waste energy by making sudden or exaggerated movements - and, to most of the England team, wearily familiar. The surprise about his dismissal was that he had not reached his hundred. This is his fourth game as captain against England, and he already had scored two hundreds and a 97. Yesterday's 50 was the eighth in consecutive innings.

Captaincy has inspired him and he has been an inspiration as captain. "Deep down in that big body, he's very proud of being Pakistan captain. It was one of his ambitions," says Woolmer.

Anyone who knew him earlier would, frankly, be astonished. Inzamam's reputation was encapsulated by an image of him sitting in an armchair on the boundary while his colleagues worked hard in the nets. He was implicated in the corruption scandal that engulfed Pakistan cricket and was exposed in Judge Qayyum's reports. In Toronto, he attacked a spectator who called him a potato. He was a dreadful runner between the wickets, and Imran Khan thought there was insufficient fire in his belly.

But two things happened. First, he became a devout Muslimafter the death of Saeed Anwar's daughter, like many others in the Pakistan Test squad. Prayers are said five times a day: at 4.30am, teatime, close of play, 9.30pm and 10.45pm, and a shared belief engenders the culture of commitment and teamwork that Woolmer encourages - though for different reasons. It appears to be the case that the team who pray well together play well together.

The second factor in the making of the new model Inzamam was the captaincy. Woolmer speaks most enthusiastically of Inzamam's inspirational quality in creating the new culture of Pakistan cricket. "I run it in conjunction with Inzi," he says.

But the makeover is certainly not 100 per cent yet. Inzamam soon showed yesterday that he still has no appetite for the quick run. Unlike, say, Sachin Tendulkar, he does not run the first leg hard, hoping to turn one into two. "Inzi's not going to win the 100 metres, but he can bat," says Woolmer.

The coach says that the idleness is clearly a façade. "Don't underrate him. He's like a puff adder. He looks sleepy, but if you step on him, he bites."

All the English bowlers got bitten yesterday, and a wagon wheel of his innings had quite enough spokes to support a heavy wagon. He got off the mark with an off-drive so effortless and perfectly timed that he did not need to run at all. When he was 47, Inzamam stroked the ball into space and could, had he wished, have run three. But why bother? He hit the next ball for a single, and saved what breath he would have wasted. The sight of Inzamam breathless would be a collector's item.

His detachment from the flashy physical side of batsmanship does not make him a worse bat or a less effective captain, but it might have had an effect on his statistics. In 110 Tests he has scored 8,335 runs, and had he run those quick singles and turned ones into twos and twos into threes, the total would be closer to 9,000 and the average a bit higher than 51.34.

When Inzamam was out yesterday, it was impossible not to feel regret. Why couldn't it have been the man at the other end? Well, Yousuf, the man at the other end, was, if anything, even more obdurate and almost as stylish. He was still batting when Pakistan saved the follow-on and began to make inroads into England's total. Inzamam was looking on from the balcony. He must have been sorry, and a bit surprised, that he was not out there.