Late on Sunday, Anil Kumble, a mountain of runs behind him, sent down 21 deliveries to Pakistan captain Younis Khan. Younis was all eyes, vigilant and wary, determined to keep the ball out of his wicket. Three times the ball kept low, and Younis twice bent low to put bat to ball. He failed once, and the ball all but knocked out the off-stump. He barely survived.
We should see a lot of that on Monday morning Pakistan need to get to 427 to avoid following on; the pitch, with its variable bounce, is beginning to prey on the batsmen’s minds.
Kumble, despite 17 years of Test cricket, hasn’t been sorted out yet. He’s already struck once. Yasir Hameed was fooled by one that shot on straight and low. He is definitely playing on the Pakistan batsmen’s minds as Salman Butt, unbeaten on 50, later said.
Making it count
Most sports are about annexing specific territory, forcing the foe to an area of weakness on the field, and the Indian batsmen did that with success for the second day. They forced the Pakistan bowlers, after their Saturday submission, to dwell in dangerous territories outside off-stump or on the stumps, at a length of the Indians’ choosing.
Thus the sun shone on India, the Sunday crowd raised a din worthy of Babel, and Pakistan subsided into a position of vulnerability.
The absence of Shoaib Akhtar did not help though on the field, he could only watch helplessly. To bowl, he had to spend as much time on the field as he did off it on Saturday. The Indian innings lasted very long 150 overs but not long enough for Akhtar to have his promised bowl.
His frequent breakdowns must cause disquiet in the Pakistan camp, and also their decision to play only four specialist bowlers two, actually, for Yasir Arafat is more an allrounder.
Pakistan, thus, paid heavily in the worst manner, in runs.
Dadagiri of a special kind
Sourav Ganguly, for the second day in a row, started the fight that someone else finished. After a good start, with two yorkers in the first over and a hit on Ganguly’s helmet, Arafat lost his line. Ganguly took 12 runs off the day’s fifth over as Arafat stepped on his turf short and wide, or on the pads. Ganguly cut and pulled with power, and India got the kick they sought.
Arafat never really got his line and length right after that; he is no speed gun, the pitch is not Perth-like and Ganguly was out to prove a point.
Dinesh Karthik, unbeaten on 3 overnight, did not have a great start, flashing and jabbing at the ball and missing; but he defended with resolution, seeking the form that had made him India’s top run-getter of the year before this series. Worryingly, he fell in his now accustomed manner, jabbing outside off and edging behind.
For Ganguly, there was no edging with Irfan Pathan’s advent, the Bengal southpaw began to seem restive. He had waited 271 balls, but could not wait any more dancing down in his patented style, he deposited Kaneria into the stands wide of long-off.
Partners in time
Then Pathan took over the Pakistanis were pitching it too full and he was timing it well right from the start. There was no movement in the air, the track was lifeless and the bowlers aimless. Pathan got his runs at a rapid pace, getting his 50 off the 83rd ball he faced.
Chants of “Sourav, Sourav” arose from the stands as Ganguly neared his first Test double; with the field called in, he remained on 197 for 10 balls; moved to 198 with a single off Kaneria and then Arafat gifted him a full one outside off. Ganguly got the last two runs, raised his arms and head heavenwards and grinned like a child. In his 99th Test, he had got his first double-century.
He fell in anti-climactic manner, sweeping at Kaneria and missing, getting his stumps shattered. A magical display had come to an end.
Kumble and Harbhajan didn’t last long, leaving Pathan on 96; Ishant Sharma stoutly defended four balls, and Pathan smashed the first of the next over from Kaneria into the stands behind midwicket. Maiden ton done, next ball, he fell.
But India now hold the higher ground, a loss is an impossibility from here.