India almost home

Barring something extraordinary and unprecedented – or interruption from weather – India will complete victory in the First Test against Pakistan early tomorrow after a fine day’s work in which they knocked-over the 5 Pakistani wickets they needed for just 35 and then, via a mixture of judiciously cautious and expansive innings, scored 171 of the 203 they required for victory. It has been a fine team effort throughout, with both bat and ball.

After Anil Kumble completed the over which had been interrupted late yesterday, Zaheer Khan was given the ball and struck instantly: Kamran Akmal flung his bat at a ball that slid across him and was easily caught by the substitute Yuvraj Singh at point. Sohail Tanvir was peppered with short deliveries, never looking convincing, and sure enough in Zaheer’s fourth over of his spell Tanvir went for a pull-stroke, top-edged and was well caught by Harbhajan Singh back-pedalling at square-leg. Misbah-ul-Haq, dropped by Wasim Jaffer early in his innings yesterday, had once again looked composed – that let-off aside – and briefly threatened to repeat his stand with Mohammad Sami which in the first-innings had yielded 87.

This time, they stayed together for 10 overs, but scored just 14 runs before both batsmen lost their heads, inexplicably. Sourav Ganguly was given the new ball in the middle of the 83rd over, and Misbah gave him the charge instantly, attempting to loft over long-on. All he succeeded in doing, however, was skewing the ball high in the air, and Dinesh Karthik took another excellent catch, running backwards from mid-on. Sami attempted to swing the next ball but one over mid-wicket, and once again got a lot of elevation but little distance. Wasim Jaffer barely had to move this time, and pouched the catch.

With Shoaib Akhtar and Danish Kaneria together the innings was never likely to have long left, and sure enough the ball after Sami departed, Kaneria set-off for a suicidal single to Sachin Tendulkar at cover. He was halfway down before Shoaib sent him back, and though Tendulkar’s throw was wide, Mahendra Dhoni collected well and flicked the ball between his legs onto the stumps. Anil Kumble did not take a wicket in the morning, but finished his debut as captain with a very satisfying 7-106. Zaheer took 2-45 in both innings, Harbhajan 3-93, though it was Ganguly who provided the biggest surprise-package, taking 3 vital wickets and conceding barely over 2-an-over all game. India had to face 4 overs before lunch.

The opening partnership did not last the course of the first, as Shoaib removed Karthik for the second time in the match. As in the first-innings, it was a ball that pitched on an excellent line, moved away off the seam and drew an ill-judged stroke. In the first-innings the batsman had fended indeterminately, but he was no better second time around when he attempted an expansive drive, and Kamran Akmal accepted a simple offering once more.

Things might have been very different had Rahul Dravid been given lbw to Sami in his opening over. Somehow Billy Doctrove deciphered that a full inswinger was not hitting the stumps, though it did not even require a HawkEye to tell that the ball would have knocked over middle-and-leg. Dravid had further difficulty with Sami, but Jaffer played a composed knock, picking-off loose deliveries which came regularly enough and keeping-out some quick, imposing stuff from Shoaib. Kaneria occasionally posed him problems, but Tanvir and Sami were dismissed imperiously.

After his initial struggles with Sami, Dravid settled-in, and before long was looking his normal impenetrable self. Jaffer completed his half-century with a fierce cut off Shoaib, returning in the 28th over, but fell next ball, attempting a pull. He failed to get over the ball and Salman Butt at square-leg took another fine catch. This brought Sachin Tendulkar to the crease, determined to make his mark after his first-innings run-out.

Knowing Shoaib would be operating in only a short burst, the experienced pair looked to see him off. They made it to tea, but Shoaib was thrown the ball again after the break and finally broke through Dravid’s defences, producing a magnificent inswinger that removed the leg-stump.

It was to be the last breakthrough Pakistan would make in the day, however. Tendulkar was patience personified; Ganguly received enough width to hit a few of his characteristic off-side strokes early on, settling any nerves after his first-innings failure. When Kaneria was introduced Ganguly greeted him with a further boundary and continued to master the wristspin throughout.

By the 48th over India were 138 for 3, 65 required and the target rapidly becoming a formality. As so often in these circumstances, the scoring-rate increased. 33 came from the next 6 overs, and it was perhaps mildly surprising when the batsmen accepted the offer of the light after 5 balls of 55th – certainly there was a sigh of disappointment from the crowd. But with the game all but won, the batsmen were well within their rights to play on the safe side. They will hope to wrap it up themselves tomorrow.

Pakistan 231
Misbah-ul-Haq 82
Anil Kumble 4-38

India 276
VVS Laxman 72*, Mahendra Dhoni 57
Danish Kaneria 4-59

Pakistan 247
Salman Butt 67, Misbah-ul-Haq 45
Anil Kumble 3-68

India 171 for 3
Wasim Jaffer 53, Sourav Ganguly 48*
Shoaib Akhtar 3-41

India require 32 more runs for victory

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