Dravid puts India in charge
India 342 for 4 (Dravid 134*, Laxman 71, Patel 69, Ganguly 53*) lead Pakistan 224 by 118 runs
Rahul Dravid struck 134 not out, an innings of the highest class and character, to put India well on top on the second day of the deciding Test against Pakistan at Rawalpindi. India reached 342 for 4 by the close of play, 118 ahead, with six wickets still in hand. It was no solo act, though - Parthiv Patel vindicated Sourav Ganguly's bold decision to promote him to the top of the order by making a feisty 69, VVS Laxman made a strokeful 71, off just 99 balls, and Ganguly himself made an aggressive 53 not out.
Dravid's century, his first against Pakistan, reflected his quintessence. It featured solid defence, impeccable shot selection, classical strokeplay, and unwavering concentration. Dravid has been the key figure in India's finest overseas wins of recent times - Headingley and Adelaide, especially - and here, on yet another big occasion, in conditions which offered some encouragement to the bowlers, he played a calm and unhurried innings.
Dravid had his slices of luck, though. He survived an early scare, when an lbw appeal against him, off Mohammad Sami, was turned down by the umpire, although it appeared absolutely plumb, an impression confirmed by Hawk-Eye. The last few minutes before tea were also nervy ones - he cut a ball from Sami uppishly to Yasir Hameed at point, who fumbled with it, and dropped it. Moments later, Dravid inside-edged a ball from Danish Kaneria down near his feet, from where it bobbed up and was caught by a diving Kamran Akmal. Replays were called for but were inconclusive, and Dravid survived.
But these were isolated instances in a beautifully constructed innings, the centrepiece of three lucrative partnerships - 129 with Patel, 131 with Laxman, and an unbeaten 81 with Ganguly.
Patel's elevation as an opener entailed tests of both character and technique. On both fronts, he delivered. His shot-selection was immaculate, and in the first few overs of the morning he let go everything that was not on the stumps, and played everything else late, and close to his body. He opened up as the game went along, though, and was especially severe to anything full or short outside off, getting most of his ten boundaries square of the wicket on the off side.
But although Patel excelled in the areas square of the wicket, he was not limited to them. An on-drive off Sami and a straight-drive off Shoaib Akhtar were orthodox strokes of the highest class, and showcased the potential Patel has as a batsman. He may not be a long-term opening option for India, but Ganguly's move was a short-term tactical move*, and it paid off superbly.
Pakistan's fast bowlers, in the morning, had not extracted anywhere near the kind of movement as the Indians had done on the first day, though Shoaib hurried both batsman initially with his pace. Kaneria troubled Patel when he came on, beating him with a top-spinner and a googly early on, but once the batsman had a good look at him, he no longer looked dangerous. It was eventually Fazl-e-Akbar who got Pakistan the first breakthrough.
Akbar bowled an accurate spell in the post-lunch session, getting some movement, and pitching the ball consistently in the corridor. He accounted for Patel, who edged one that was leaving him to Akmal (129 for 2). Sachin Tendulkar came out to bat - but not for long.
After getting off the mark with an edge through slips off Akbar, Tendulkar succumbed to Shoaib off the first ball of the next over, a snorter just outside off stump which Tendulkar could not get his bat away from in time. The face of his bat opened as the ball passed him, as he simultaneously tried to draw it away, and the ball was virtually guided through to Akmal (130 for 3).
Laxman, who is accustomed to long partnerships with Dravid, was the next man in, and after an early edge through slips for four, he showed no sign of nerves. Solid in defence, imperious on the attack, Laxman quickly got into his groove. If there were any demons in the pitch, he quickly exorcised them, playing some dazzling pulls and drives, and timing the ball so well that it seemed almost magical.
The second new ball brought Pakistan some relief, as Shoaib launched into yet another hostile spell. He induced two edges off Dravid, both of which fell short, before knocking off Laxman's middle stump with a full-toss that swung wildly from its original line on leg stump (261 for 4).
Ganguly came in next, and began positively, slashing the short balls outside off, timing his off-drives to perfection, and scoring at a run a ball for much of his innings, before slowing down towards the end. Shoaib, meanwhile, went off the field to treat an injured wrist, as news filtered in that he would not bowl for the rest of the day. It was a stony cherry on the top of a bad cake.
India looked well set, as the day ended, to extend their lead to such an extent that they wouldn't have to bat again. Dravid was still at the crease, defiant and determined, and Ganguly would certainly take the attack to Pakistan on the third morning. And Yuvraj Singh waited in the pavilion. The big question that now remained, it appeared, was if Pakistan's batsmen could bat well enough in the second innings to save the Test. Ganguly's men were running the show.
Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.
*Patel is clearly not a long-term option to open, as he cannot possibly both keep wicket and open the batting. But in this crucial Test, he did the task asked of him. Patel's brief was the same as Aakash Chopra's had been, to take the shine off the new ball, and he did better than what one could expect from Chopra. His 69 was higher than Chopra's best of 60, he lasted much longer (141 balls) than Chopra's average stay at the crease per innings, of 79 balls, and his strike-rate of 49 was much better than Chopra's, of 35.46. Patel's performance was Ganguly's triumph as a tactician. (Back to article)