When Pakistan took the field on Friday, their thoughts would have been in sync with the in-stadia advertisement at the Ferozeshah Kotla that screamed “No Dream Too Big”.
They seemed to be doing nicely till Misbah-ul Haq’s freak run out. He was done in by a direct throw that hit the stumps when he was in the air while trying to avoid the ball without grounding his bat. This bizarre dismissal, an hour into the second day’s play paved the way for India’s rather scrappy pursuit of another milestone at this happy hunting ground.
The hosts looked set to emulate the visitors’ display as at one stage they were reeling at 93-5 but a sixth wicket partnership of 115 between VVS Laxman (57 no) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (57) left them in a scenario where they have their nose marginally ahead. India will commence Day III three runs adrift of Pakistan’s 231, and with four wickets intact, will be looking for a sizeable lead.
On a track that has had both teams nodding in unison that it’s showing signs of getting slower and lower, the Indian batsmen too were guilty of lack of application.
Captain Shoaib Malik sprang a surprise by asking greenhorn Tanvir — instead of the more experienced Sami — to share the new ball with Shoaib Akhtar. Malik probably expected Tanvir to get him some early returns with his unconventional action.
Shoaib meanwhile had openers Jaffer and Karthik in discomfort. Umpire Billy Doctrove turned down the tearaway’s vociferous leg before shout against Jaffer with a ball that came in fast and low. Replays showed the batsman should have been dead and gone.
Following that hiccup, Jaffer settled down but there was no such respite for his partner. Facing a bowler of Shoaib’s calibre without moving his feet was flirting with danger and Karthik paid the price, chasing a ball pitched in the corridor of uncertainty.
By now, the “Rawalpindi Express” was on fire and he greeted Rahul Dravid by rapping him on the pads. There was a brief lull as the batsmen went about with their task of consolidation.
Dravid, who came into the Test with a back-to-back double century and century in the Ranji Trophy, slipped into attack mode with consummate ease. He was particularly severe on Tanvir, who ended his first spell with sorry figures of 5-1-27-0.
Playing with a straight bat, both batsmen looked good for the road ahead when Shoaib accounted for Jaffer (32) with a leg before decision that ended the 56-run stand for the second wicket. Sachin Tendulkar’s entry evoked a rapturous response but he was soon on his way out, run out while attempting a non-existent second run. At 73-3, the tad of uncertainty took the form of a full-blown crisis as Ganguly (8) and Dravid (38) departed for the addition of just 20 runs.
Both fell to Tanvir; Ganguly castled while fending a delivery with a yawning gap between bat and pad while Dravid paid the price for trying to flick across the line to a beauty that knocked back his off-stump. By now, with 231 looking a distant mark, the crowd started to get restless and any display of aggression from the Pakistanis was countered with derogatory chants. But Dhoni and Laxman soothed frayed nerves with their partnership. The vice-captain’s was more about brute force while the Hyderabadi was elegance personified, his shots providing visual relief.
But just when it seemed the duo would see off the day, Kaneria drew out Dhoni and had him stumped.