In the last over of the first session on Monday, Younis Khan first displayed a strength that turned into frailty.
A reverse-sweep bestows on batsmen an air of ingenuity and bravery — if it works. If it doesn’t, then the man who loses his wicket to this stroke seems the biggest of the 13 flannelled fools on the field. Especially in a Test, especially with your team needing to put 427 on the board to avoid following on.
Thus, when Younis reverse-swept Harbhajan Singh at the stroke of lunch, it seemed a peril unnecessarily taken; but since the ball streaked past point for a four, Younis’s inventiveness, his skill at an impossible stroke, drew admiration. It also put Harbhajan off his length, and Younis got another four off a short one.
Younis reverse-swept Harbhajan three times more, twice getting fours; the third time, off the first ball of the 70th over, Harbhajan had altered the angles — he was bowling around the stumps now, slanting the ball in from the leg-stump. A most difficult ball to hit for a most unconventional shot. Yet Younis went for it and was gone, his stumps in a mess.
The crowd, suddenly awaken from slumber, screamed in joy, Younis walked off with his head downcast, rueing a mistake that could prove dear.
Eleven deliveries later, Mohammad Yousuf walked off with a similar mien; he had allowed an argument with Indian skipper Anil Kumble to breach his concentration. Yousuf seemed to be teased into irritation by a comment from the slips; he advanced on to Kumble at gully, the Indian skipper advised Yousuf to get on. Yousuf got out — the last ball of the 70th over, from Irfan Pathan, was short and very wide.
Yousuf should have ignored it with disdain, but leapt at it and smashed it straight to point.
Yousuf swiped angrily at the turf as he headed out, but anger had already done the damage. Younis and Yousuf had made the Indian attack look feeble, but now there was an opportunity for the hosts.
Pakistan were 227 for four, and the man coming in was Faisal Iqbal, with no run to show from his only previous innings in the series, at Kolkata.
But at the other end was the nerveless Misbah-ul-Haq; the pitch, despite the cracks, was hard, and belying earlier fears, not too many deliveries were keeping low.
Misbah’s basic work in Tests is elementary; in defence, he simply plants a big stride forward and kills the ball at his feet; in attack, he swings his arms with decision and strength, and the ball usually travels. On Monday, Misbah had to exercise caution; the second new in hand, Ishant Sharma bowled a useful spell, hitting the seam and troubling Misbah and Iqbal with movement off the pitch.
In the 97th over, Ishant made the ball jump, Iqbal could not keep it down, and in walked Kamran Akmal. As the shadows lengthened, the two heroes from Kolkata fought a battle of nerves with India. They defended with conviction and countered with sudden, sure strokes. And Pakistan had a bit of good luck — on 45, Misbah got pinned by a quick Kumble googly, a very good case for an LBW verdict. But umpire Taufel didn’t think so.
Butt was dropped by Gautam Gambhir at short leg off Harbhajan, though the ball was really travelling. Younis Khan had given no such chance — he was in great touch right from the start. But then allowed himself to waste a wonderful innings.
India also allowed things to drift away from them. Ishant, who bowled eight no-balls, was erratic and wide outside leg contributing to the 31 byes. India have conceded 70 extras, one short of the world record. They’re still favourites, but much depends on Misbah.