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Misbah denies India again

The Pakistan batsman takes team past follow-on mark while Ishant shines with first fiver. Rohit Mahajan tells us more.

cricket Updated: Dec 12, 2007 14:19 IST
Rohit Mahajan

Yet again Pakistan found themselves on a slippery slope to disaster. The challenge was daunting — the pitch was deeply flawed, a veritable web of cracks that should alarm most.

But Misbah-ul-Haq is a man deaf to the shrillest alarms — he seems to be rather insensate when in the middle, free of the baser traits of dread and panic. He came to the middle, he grafted a lot, he smashed the ball a bit and yet again, Misbah bloody well proved unshakeable.

For the second time in three innings, Misbah was Pakistan's saviour, adding important runs with the lower order, ensuring his team escaped following on. For the second time in three innings, India could not find a way to end Misbah's innings. He played 322 balls for an unbeaten 133 and Pakistan conceded a lead of just 89.

To be fair, the track was illusory — the ball did not shoot low as often as was feared. If you played with a straight bat, watched the ball with vigilance, you could survive; it would not be easy, but Misbah on Tuesday made it look easy.
Pakistan started the day at 369/5, needing 58 to avoid following on; India began with Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma, who beat the bat a few times but were not menacing.

The pacemen were erratic, the batsmen guarded when dealing with deliveries aimed at the stumps; Ishant and Pathan did not make the batsmen play often enough, straying down legside or outside off too often. When presented with four-balls, Misbah and Kamran Akmal freed their arms and hit hard.

The introduction of spin did not matter, Misbah and Akmal easily got the 427 to save the follow on.

Harbhajan tried his bag of tricks, varied his pace and flight, used the doosra, beat the batsmen a few times. Akmal fell on 65, beaten by change of flight, missing a drive and getting stumped.

But his work was done — 144 runs for the sixth wicket with Misbah had saved his team.

New man Yasir Arafat frustrated India for 98 minutes; he was completely free of nerves, going for his shots when he got the opportunity.

Ishant's best spell of the match was on Monday afternoon, when he got only Faisal Iqbal; his second best was on Tuesday afternoon, when he wiped out the tail. Ishant bent his back, made the ball leap up off the crumbling surface; Arafat played on off one that seamed in; Sami was yorked, Akhtar lobbed one to short-leg. Finally, Danish Kaneria tried to pull one that hurried on to him, Ishant took the catch mid-pitch and celebrated — a fiver in only his second Test.

Akhtar took the new ball and simply charged in — he tried to push the batsmen back by pitching it short, tried to deceive them with slower deliveries. It was lack of pace that beat Gautam Gambhir, his second failure of the match. Wasim Jaffer was beaten by lack of bounce off Arafat. Then the old combine of Ganguly, in sublime touch, and Dravid pulled India out of the dark alley.