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Kotla Test: Almost home...

Shoaib strikes thrice but Sourav, Sachin grind down the Pak attack, reports Robin Bose.

cricket Updated: Nov 26, 2007 10:51 IST
Robin Bose

Accepting the challenges life throws up and thriving on them makes us grow in stature. Sport is no different. But as we know by now, things work differently for Pakistan.

At 212-5, they had signed off Saturday at the Ferozeshah Kotla in a position from which they could have turned the match around. Instead, they thought it better to keep intact the element of unpredictability – the hallmark of this Test – alive, by spurning the initiative that lay at their doorstep.

Batting as if there was no tomorrow, the remaining five batsmen went for only 35 runs, falling to nonsensical shots. And then, barring a hiccup or two, India ensured there were no further twists in the plot as they ended Sunday just 32 short of taking a 1-0 series lead.

There might be talk of the new ball doing the trick for India, but there was no way the lack of application in the early morning conditions could have been discounted.

Barring Shoaib Akhtar, if Pakistan faced a paucity of men willing to put their hands up, India faced no such problem.

Zaheer began it all by claiming Akmal and Tanvir. Ganguly, who went on to have a major say in the day’s proceedings, struck twice in the space of a few deliveries as soon as the new ball was acquired to finish Misbah and Sami. Misbah’s dismissal on 45 would have helped Jaffer, who put him down on Saturday when the batsman was on 29.

The target of 203 looked manageable but the Akhtar factor could not be undermined. The fast bowler did not have to wait long for his airplane celebration when he got Karthik for the second successive innings.

Any hopes Pakistan harboured of making further inroads post lunch though, were dented. Though Akhtar did test Dravid, in time, Pakistan lost hope. With time not a factor, Jaffer and Dravid focussed on regrouping. What did not help was that the other bowlers lacked the venom to back up Akhtar on a track that had nothing to trouble the batsmen, barring the low bounce.

The second-wicket duo put on 82 before Akhtar had Jaffer holing out to Butt at square leg soon after he got his fifty. Though he ploughed on with little support, Akhtar seemed to enjoy his role — engaging spectators in friendly banter and then tearing in full steam to have a go at the batsmen.

The tireless seamer sent the near capacity crowd into a hush soon after tea by castling Dravid with a beauty. But that was where his say in the proceedings ended as Ganguly (48 n.o.) and Tendulkar (32 n.o.) assumed control with a 78-run stand. The Kotla was probably witnessing a Sachin-Shoaib duel for the last time and the engagement made for engrossing viewing. Akhtar had the satisfaction of gaining the upper hand as Tendulkar managed a strike rate of just 9.52 against him against Ganguly’s 73.68 but it would be little satisfaction as the battle is nearly lost.

India will look to complete the formalities on Monday, but lest one forgets, cricket can be a weird game.