At 10.10 am, after bowling four overs, immediately after having Wasim Jaffer dropped off a searing riser, Shoaib Akhtar walked off the green, his face a big grimace. He walked past the ropes, unfolded a towel and lay down on his stomach. A teammate gave him a rub, not too gentle, even digging his elbow into Akhtar’s lower back.
The power Akhtar used in each delivery, right after his return from his chest congestion, was difficult for even his powerful frame to take.
And Pakistan seemed drained of power when Akhtar finally walked off, to go to hospital.
At 1.40 pm, a grave, mournful voice announced on the PA system that Akhtar had been taken to hospital for an MRI scan.
Pakistan were already beginning to feel the pain of their star strike bowler. At 3.37 pm, it was revealed that the MRI was clear, that he had had muscle spasms, and that the situation would be reviewed on Sunday morning.
Thus, on an easing track and against the maturing ball, India thrived.
Yasir Arafat, the Test debutant who rocked India thrice before lunch, said as much.
“Obviously, his presence makes a difference… A lot of quick runs were scored when he was away,” Arafat said.
Yuvraj Singh agreed: “Yes, it will affect any team if their strike bowler pulls up short.”
With Sami bowling without direction or menace, and with Kaneria looking ineffective, it was up to Arafat. Which was quite ironical, because Arafat never thought he would be called to India when Umar Gul got injured.
“I didn’t think I would be called up as people consider me as an allrounder suited to one-dayers,” Arafat said. “I was surprised, but now that I’ve got a chance, I’ll try to do well in Tests.”
With Ganguly looking untroubled, and Akhtar in pain, Arafat must do it again on Sunday.