Pakistan tighten their grip
India 287 and 149 for 5 (Sehwag 86*, Patel 13*) trail Pakistan 489 (Inzamam 118, Farhat 101, Kamal 73) by 53 runs
Asim Kamal's classy and defiant 73 laid the platform, and the much-maligned pace attack then took centre-stage as Pakistan closed in on an emphatic series-equalling victory at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. Irfan Pathan's fiery spell gave India hope in the morning, but Kamal's masterful shepherding of the tail, and superb spells from both Mohammad Sami and Shoaib Akhtar, pushed them to the precipice, and certain defeat. At stumps, they were 149 for 5, needing another 53 to make Pakistan bat again.
On a day when the much-vaunted batting line-up folded quicker than a tacky tabloid, Virender Sehwag was the only one that refused to submit, backing his natural instincts and combating whatever the bowlers threw at him with flair and courage. The next highest contribution was 13 from VVS Laxman and Parthiv Patel, and that told its own pathetic story.
That said, Pakistan's attack - so insipid for much of this series - was back to something like its fearsome best, with both Sami and Akhtar - one delivery was clocked at 100.8 mph - bowling at full pelt, safe in the knowledge that they had 202 runs to play with. And it was Shoaib that struck first, just before tea when he rapped Aakash Chopra on the pad with a thunderbolt (15 for 1).
If that was a blow, what followed was like the oxygen line being ripped out. Rahul Dravid hadn't faced a ball when he and Sehwag attempted to complete a risky single. Imran Farhat's throw from short cover crashed into the base of the stumps with Dravid short of the crease (15 for 2).
Sachin Tendulkar played one lovely flick off the pads off Sami, but was then trapped plumb in front by one that darted back into him (43 for 3). By then, Sehwag - who survived a confident shout for leg before from Sami early in his innings - had started driving and cutting the ball with aplomb, showing a special preference for Shoaib's extra pace.
With Laxman, he added 45 in quick time, before Umar Gul got one to move away and knock Laxman's off stump out of the ground (88 for 4). And when Yuvraj Singh (12) edged one behind for Kamran Akmal to take a stunning diving catch off Sami's bowling, the first lines in the obit could be penned.
Sehwag continued to flail away at every opportunity, receiving good support from Patel, who played a couple of superb drives down the wicket. But Sehwag also had his share of luck, surviving another appeal for leg before from Gul, and then seeing Yousuf Youhana miss a difficult chance at midwicket off Sami as India somehow limped to stumps without further injury.
The damage had been done earlier though. Kamal, who made 99 on Test debut before being mysteriously left out of the side, led a tremendous rearguard action after Pathan and Lakshmipathy Balaji had sparked a middle-order collapse in the morning. He had eased his way to 26 by lunch, but once Shoaib (19) was out - caught brilliantly by Yuvraj at midwicket, off Anil Kumble's bowling - he opened out with some stunning strokes. A full delivery from Pathan was sent skimming over the long-on boundary for six, and he then swept Kumble for four.
Gul wasn't idle either, twice square-driving Pathan in classy fashion, before pulling one behind square with a nonchalance that made you peer closer to make sure that it wasn't Viv Richards batting in disguise. Gul and Kamal added 38 before Gul stepped onto his wicket in an attempt to pull Tendulkar for four more (470 for 9). But Kamal, who had motored past 50 almost unnoticed, wasn't finished, slamming Kumble and Tendulkar for sixes over midwicket and long-on before an attempt at a reverse sweep against Kumble lobbed behind to Patel. But by then, the job had been done, with the last three wickets adding 103.
The initial exchanges had been dominated by India. Pathan - whose first spell this morning produced figures of 7-3-11-3 - struck even before most of the sparse crowd had settled into their seats. Inzamam-ul-Haq hadn't added to his 118 when Pathan got one to straighten and hit him in line with leg stump. And this time, Simon Taufel's finger did go up (356 for 4).
Youhana resumed brightly, with a cracking square-drive and sweetly timed off-drive off Balaji, but was then suckered into flailing at one that pitched on off stump and moved away. Patel - far more subdued this morning after being docked 60% of his match fee for excessive appealing - took the catch, and Pakistan were suddenly looking shaky at 366 for 5.
Akmal (5) didn't steady the nerves either, trapped in front by a Pathan delivery that pitched on leg stump and would have gone on to hit middle (379 for 6). And when Pathan bowled Sami (2) off the inside edge, India harboured visions of keeping the lead down to a little over 100. But Kamal authored the decisive twist in the tale, and the bowlers did the rest. Barring a miracle of Biblical proportions, the full stop will be inked in tomorrow, leaving the series tantalisingly poised at 1-1.