Late on Wednesday afternoon, under a murky sky, the Chinnaswamy Stadium became a noisy theatre of the absurd. Incited by a crazy impulse to self-destruct, Pakistan almost performed an act of mass self-immolation, losing seven wickets in what were perhaps the 90 maddest minutes in a Test match.
Anil Kumble, a non-factor in the game till then, struck five telling blows, bowling medium-pace. More stunningly, birthday boy Yuvraj Singh, never really a factor with the ball, beat the defence of the imperturbable Misbah-ul-Haq. At one point, in 16 balls, Pakistan lost four wickets for 10 runs. Pakistan, needing 374 for an impossible victory. Then it got darker, light was offered to Mohammad Yousuf and Mohammad Sami, and the duo walked off with a perceptible spring in its steps into the dressing room.
The Indians stayed on the turf, despite worsening light. The floodlights came on - and a furious Ranjan Magudalle, the match referee, got them switched off, for the playing conditions didn't permit their use. The reading on umpire Simon Taufel's light-meter was 3.4, and getting worse - the acceptable number is 4.7. The game was going away from India.
At 4.52 pm, Kumble uprooted finally a stump and celebrated with his team — for the first time in 27 years, India had won a Test series at home against Pakistan.
India ran out of time, all the more a pity because they could have made time to have a real go at Pakistan. Kumble's decision to bat on till late was mystifying - one, India were already 310 runs ahead at lunch --- to win, Pakistan would have had to overhaul that in around 64 overs, almost impossible - and two, India risked injury by batting on, for the bounce off the cracking, uneven surface was variable. Shoaib Akhtar was bowling short and very fast, and serious injury was highly possible.
Sourav Ganguly had got hit on his arm guard in the first session. After lunch, VVS Laxman, wearing no arm guard, got hit on the elbow by an Akhtar bouncer. Laxman retired hurt and was lucky to get away with just a bruise.
Perhaps Kumble wanted to allow Dinesh Karthik get some runs and confidence. The skipper later said he was content with a 1-0 series win, which actually goes against the type of cricket he plays --- aggressive and uncompromising.
Karthik had a tentative start, coming on after India lost three wickets for the addition of six runs. Sourav Ganguly, not as fluent as he was the previous afternoon, fell nine short of his third century in a row and Rahul Dravid became Danish Kaneria's only victim of the innings; Yuvraj got a bad decision on his birthday.
Karthik scored 39 of his 52 runs off leg-spinner Kaneria, who again failed to get his line right, bowling short and wide from around the wicket. But his mode of dismissal, a stab outside off with no movement of the feet, would not have encouraged anyone putting money on him as a Test opener. Pakistan's collapse, on the other hand, encouraged the crowd to shake of their indolence and raise an amazing din. Kumble's pace surprised the visitors, with at least three of them throwing away their wickets. But Kumble struck hard and often and within moments, the atmosphere changed from soporific to electric. Pity, it had to end in the anti-climax of a draw.