It may have been a rush of blood that led Misbah-ul-Haq to scoop the ball into Sreesanth’s hands and have Pakistan fall back from the threshold of victory in the Twenty20 World Championship final, but on Thursday, it was the 33-year-old’s patience that kept the visitors afloat on Day I of the opening Test India at the Ferozeshah Kotla.
At 210-8, Pakistan are still not out of the woods on a wicket that has already started playing tricks, but had it not been for Misbah’s unbeaten 71 (212 balls, 266 minutes) and his unbroken 68-run stand in 31.4 overs for the ninth wicket with tailender Mohammad Sami (20), the script, which read 142-8 at one juncture, could have been worse.
Armed with an experience of just seven Tests and a previous best of 41, Misbah did provide a window of opportunity to the Indians at 69, when Harbhajan Singh at square leg failed to hold on to a ferocious pull off Munaf Patel. But beyond that, it was a flawless innings by the player from Mianwali, Punjab, till now, in a situation where his more accomplished predecessors blundered big time.
Having called correctly in the morning, skipper Shoaib Malik’s intent seemed to be correct but the execution went awry, till Misbah came in with the score at 59-3 and played a lone hand, before he found an unlikely ally in the diminutive fast bowler Sami.
The early morning conditions were going to test the batsmen. With India’s opening bowlers, Zaheer Khan and Munaf bowling a probing line, the onus was on Salman Butt and Yasir Hameed to handle the pressure. Butt looked iffy and was consumed soon by Zaheer with a ball that jagged back sharply to clip his bails. Zaheer ten got Younis with a well-timed bouncer that hurried him into a hook.
The mist weighing down on the ground had cleared by now and with Younis’s crucial dismissal for just 7, India were well and truly into business, with Pakistan at 35-2.
Hameed looked settled and struck some pleasing strokes in his abbreviated knock of 29 but the pitch had begun to unveil what it has in store for the next four days — very low bounce coupled with unexpected turn. Sensing a chance, Kumble brought himself and went through the gap between Hameed’s bat and pad. Pakistan went into lunch at 74-3. Their position was dodgy but in Mohammad Yousuf, they had the wherewithal to stage a comeback.
Kumble’s leadership was impressive. Stationing himself at gully, he kept a close tab on the proceedings as he went about executing a gameplan that included persisting with an attacking field, using bowlers in short spells and using them from different ends.
The ploy to bring Sourav Ganguly on immediately after lunch bore fruit as he trapped Yousuf leg-before to send shockwaves in the Pak dressing room.
The writing was on the wall for Pakistan when the post-lunch session yielded four more wickets in the form of Malik (0), Kamran Akmal (30), Sohail Tanvir (4) and Shoaib Akhtar (2). Kumble (two wickets), Munaf and Harbhajan shared the spoils and enjoyed themselves till the Misbah-Sami duo took over and carried on till they were offered the light after 85.4 overs.
The first hour on Friday morning will be crucial and if this unlikely combine is able to get through it and go on to build the innings from there, Pakistan have some hope. Given the general nature of Kotla games and the depth in India’s batting, the odds are stacked heavily against Pak.