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Simply swinging Saturday

India and Pakistan race neck-and-neck at the end of day 3, but the tourists may just have an edge, reports Robin Bose.

cricket Updated: Nov 25, 2007 04:00 IST
Robin Bose

More often than not, one would expect a team that’s been shot out for a mere 231 in the first innings to be fighting with its back to the wall on Day III of a Test. But when the team in question happens to be Pakistan, the X-factor can never be discounted. Unpredictability has always been a hallmark of their cricket and on Saturday the sizeable crowd at the Ferozeshah Kotla witnessed another come-from-behind display from them when the dice was not exactly loaded in their favour.

When stumps were drawn on Friday, both teams were alive to the importance of Saturday’s first session, but it was Pakistan who were able to implement their plans and seize the initiative within an hour.

In fact, they looked keyed up even before the proceedings commenced. Under the early morning mist, the entire team was out in their “No Excuse” vests and green shorts, engaged in light exercise and a gleeful “catch me if you can” game with the support staff.

The exuberance and positive energy was quick to rub off into actual play as Sohail Tanvir and Danish Kaneria cleaned up India’s tail while conceding just 48 runs, allowing India a slender lead of 45 after they started the day at 228-6.

Anil Kumble and VVS Laxman started well as they saw off Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami’s initial bursts and went on to complete their 50-run stand for the seventh wicket. Trouble started with the introduction of Kaneria and Tanvir, who has made it a memorable debut so far.

The Indian skipper seemed to shaping well before he was foxed by Kaneria’s leg-break. There was still hope as Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan were capable of some lusty hitting. The need of the hour was to drop anchor and let Laxman take charge, much like the young father in the Clubhouse who was seen teaching his two-year-old to wave the Tricolour.

Instead, Laxman (72 no) stood a mute spectator as the tailenders fell to injudicious strokes.

Lest we forget, unpredictability and uncertainty go hand in hand. Just when it seemed Pakistan were running away with the match, comfortably placed at 149-2, the tale threw up another twist. On a track that’s increasingly turning partial towards the slower bowlers, a three-wicket burst by Kumble and Harbhajan blunted the visitors’ advantage.

The captain had almost swung it India’s way when he induced an edge from first innings saviour Misbah-ul-Haq’s bat, but Wasim Jaffer floored the sitter at forward short-leg to ensure the day’s chain of events remained unbroken.

The lapse proved costly as Misbah (29 n.o.) and Kamran Akmal (21 n.o.) posted 51 for the sixth wicket to ensure the lead had swelled to 167 when poor light ended play for the third day in succession.

Earlier, Salman Butt (67) and Yasir Hameed (36) provided the ideal platform for the visitors to set a challenging target. Playing with the sole intention of consolidation, their batsmanship may not have been pleasing to the eye, but the 71-run stand certainly helped quell fears Pakistan may have harboured of losing early wickets.

Hameed was dismissed in the post-lunch session, which saw only one wicket fall. The pace picked up as Butt, making amends for his first-innings failure, raised the tempo with Younis Khan and then Mohammad Yousuf.

Then came the windfall for India as the spinners sent back Younis, Yousuf and Butt to reduce them from 149-2 to 161-5. Kumble had been persisting with the pace-spin combination and the results came his way only after he introduced spin from both ends.

Starved of success for a while, the dismissals brought the crowd alive and stirred the DJ into action --- the batsmen walked back to the strains of “Chak de India”.

Misbah’s wicket would have definitely swung it around for India. With the partnership looking to assume threatening proportions, the hosts need to ensure they chase a gettable target on a wicket that’s only threatening to play more tricks.