Like the kites gliding low over the Eden Gardens in search of easy meat, India were on the prowl in a session that may well have defined the course of the second Test. Unlike the birds of prey which changed course after failing to spot a tasty morsel, Mohammad Sami did lower his guard. But Rahul Dravid failed to grab the chance and as the saying goes, opportunity comes knocking but once.
Making most of the reprieve, the fast bowler lent admirable support to overnight hero Misbah-ul-Haq as the duo persevered through the pre-lunch session to steer Pakistan to safety by getting past the magical 417-run mark. Sami, of late, has earned the reputation of being a stubborn customer. It was a 87-run partnership for the ninth wicket with Misbah in Delhi that enabled the visitors add some respectability to the first innings score.
It was a two-pronged game plan that Pakistan pursued on Monday. If chasing down the remaining 59 runs to make India bat again was foremost on their minds, of equal importance was occupying the crease for the maximum duration. On both counts, they acquitted themselves rather well – piecing together 456 and standing in defiance for a little over a session and half.
The 91-run stand for the seventh wicket has almost swung the match away from the hosts’ grasp. Though the Indian batsmen scored at a fair clip to stretch the lead to 301, the proceedings appear to be meandering towards a tame finish. Unless, the game of uncertainties throws up a twist. Time not being a constraint, Misbah and Sami looked to set the pace. After a few close calls the duo settled down. Conscious of his limitations, Sami looked to smother everything that was sent down by Kumble and Harbhajan. But for all the caution during his 123-ball stay, it was a tailender’s bug to play the lofted shot that contributed to his downfall.
The pair’s solid defence, punctuated by short bouts of aggression, unsettled the Indian skipper and the introduction of V.V.S. Laxman into the attack was borne more out of desperation than strategy. Nonetheless, it paid off as Sami’s dismissal opened the floodgates. Kumble and Harbhajan then polished off the remaining batsmen.
Curbing his natural instincts to a large extent, Misbah added just 53 more to his overnight 108 while his tenure in the middle today lasted over three hours before he ran out of partners. Danish Kaneria struck twice in quick succession to account for Dinesh Karthik (28) and Wasim Jaffer (56). But the dismissals could be attributed to the exigency of getting quick runs. Karthik looked good during his stay while Jaffer’s knock was an extension of his previous innings. M.S. Dhoni (28 not out), promoted to accelerate the scoring, and Sourav Ganguly (24 not out) will be required to get busy before Kumble invites Pakistan in his pursuit of an improbable victory.
Soon after landing in Kolkata, Kumble had announced that he took each Test as his last to enable him to give his best. The skipper would have been far from satisfied with the intensity that was on display in the morning. Also unsettling would have been the lack of purchase from the pitch. The uncertainty also found expression in the scorecard handed out by the Cricket Association of Bengal. It read, “Nature of pitch: Unknown”!