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Akmal, Misbah defy spin punch

They stretch Pak's first innings to 4th day, but follow-on threat still looms over them, reports Robin Bose. See Full Scorecard

cricket Updated: Dec 03, 2007 02:23 IST
Robin Bose

Intention and wherewithal are critical components for tiding over a crisis. While their intent was never in doubt, Pakistan once again appeared to be short of the means to stem the decay. At 150-5, the second Test seemed headed for an early finish before crisis manager Misbah-ul-Haq joined hands with Kamran Akmal to pull the side out of the vortex of self-destruction they seemed to be getting sucked into.

The Indians did have their moments against the duo, but failed to seize them. Apart from the shots that flew past or dropped short, Tendulkar failed to latch on to a difficult chance at mid-wicket off a Misbah sweep when the batsman was on 22. At 87, Akmal miscued a pull to long-on but Munaf spilled the ball that was dipping on him. Akmal finally fell for 119, a few minutes from close.

The record partnership of 207 for the sixth wicket may have pegged back the marauding Indians, but the mission of making the hosts bat again still looks impossible. Or at least difficult. At 358-6, Pakistan require another 59 to avoid the follow-on. Misbah’s unbeaten 108 before the weekend crowd was an extension of his ongoing tale of defiance against the Indians. This time it was also a case of spirit prevailing over the body as the 33-year-old was on the sick list on Test eve.

As in Delhi, the strongly-built middle-order bat came in when the Pakistanis were perilously close to capitulation. But unlike at Ferozeshah Kotla, where he fell short of what he set out to accomplish in both innings, there were no repeat acts at the Eden. Under fire for his recent bad performances, Akmal could not have found a better platform to come good. He got starts in Delhi but failed to build on them, Sunday’s innings would have also relieved the pressure of having rookie gloveman Sarfaraz Ahmed breathing down his neck.

Akmal and Misbah got to their centuries with boundaries and the manner of celebration was similar — going down on their knees to kiss the ground. The parallels did not end there. Their knocks also brought forth their affinity for Indian attacks. Out of the five tons against Akmal’s name, four have come against India while Misbah averages over 96 in two Tests against the hosts compared to his overall average of less than 24.

In sharp contrast to the top order that looked bent on self-destruction, Misbah and Akmal showed that with sound technique and temperament, the devil in the pitch could be quelled. Even though five down, runs were not allowed to dry up. Misbah was adventurous early on, but settled down as the duo kept the scoreboard ticking with ones and twos and the occasional big shots. Once set, they opened their arms and played delectable strokes on both sides of the wicket.

Frustrated by Misbah and Akmal’s piece de resistance, Anil Kumble tried various combinations and tactics that included asking the bowlers to regularly operate from round the wicket to exploit footmarks. The move paid off towards the end when Harbhajan castled Akmal with a beauty that turned sharply.

It was the doughty off-spinner who started the slide in the morning after Salman Butt and Younis Khan appeared to be negotiating the pitch well. As expected, Harbhajan started the day’s proceedings and was soon in business by consuming Butt (42) and Yousuf with deliveries that exploited the purchase offered by the track. Younis (43) continued to play freely and took the attack to the other camp. But he soon fell to a pedestrian offering from Munaf Patel while attempting an ambitious drive. Kumble struck the final blow before lunch when he foxed Faisal Iqbal with a googly and set up Misbah and Akmal to take centrestage.