Late strikes mar India's day
Rahul Dravid scored an exquisite hundred to keep India, who were given a typically blistering start by Virender Sehwag, ahead for the better part of the day, but Pakistan worked their way back in to the game with a spurt of wickets at the close. India had been coasting at 278 for 2 when Sachin Tendulkar was out for 52, and Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman followed soon after. Dravid was out for 110 in the last over of the day, and a dominant position had turned into one of just a slight advantage.
There was no assistance in the Eden Gardens pitch for the bowlers. Much of the grass that had been on a couple of days before the Test had been shaved off, and Pakistan's bowling in the first two sessions was sometimes wayward, mostly ineffectual. The Indian batsmen were unworried and assured.
The morning belonged to Virender Sehwag. Bob Woolmer, Pakistan's coach, had said before the game: "We will not give [Sehwag] a car." But Sehwag did get the automobile in question, as the bowlers strayed. Mohammad Sami was too full, and often wide, and struggled to find rhythm. Mohammad Khalil, brought into the side in place of the injured Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, bowled better, but Sehwag's back-foot defence sufficed. He was never tempted into the pull, and was brutal when he got space on the off side.
Danish Kaneria was brought on as early as the tenth over, but Sehwag read him like a favourite book. Kaneria did get Gautam Gambhir's wicket, but was otherwise a benign force. Dravid played him with utter ease, and Pakistan sweated in vain.
Shahid Afridi, brought into the side in place of Salman Butt, showed how useful the fifth bowler could be with a probing spell after lunch, in which he frustrated Sehwag out. Sehwag mistimed a heave and Inzamam-ul-Haq, not a nimble mover but a committed man, took a good catch at cover, running backwards.
Tendulkar took 19 balls to open his account, but the quality of the cover-drive that got him his first runs was so outstanding that there was no question of his form. He batted solidly, and played some delicate strokes on both sides of the wicket. At 2.39pm, with an on-side dab, Tendulkar brought up his 10,000th run in Test cricket.
But it was Dravid who was the star of the day. His innings was flawless. He was his usual assured self in defence, so much so that the act of bowling to him seemed an exercise in futility. His driving and cutting had both classicism and artistry, his concentration was as relentless as the sun that beat down upon the field, and as frustrating for Pakistan on a warm and humid day.
Dravid added 122 with Tendulkar, who batted more and more freely as the innings went on, but the end of the partnership brought on a mini-collapse. First Tendulkar was out, caught behind after chasing a wide ball from Afridi. Then Sourav Ganguly, after scratching around unconvincingly, flashed at a good-length ball outside the off stump and was caught behind. VVS Laxman was leg-before first ball, and Pakistan had fought back.
Afridi chuffed in like a fast bowler, Razzaq and Sami bent their backs, but it was Kaneria who had the last word of the day, drawing Dravid forward and inducing an edge with a legspinner. As at Mohali, Pakistan had begun badly but recovered well. Here, though, they had come back on the first day itself. What would happen on the second?
Gautam Gambhir lbw b Kaneria 29 (80 for 1) Tried to sweep and was rapped on the front foot by an overpitched googly. Fair decision.
Virender Sehwag c Inzamam b Afridi 81 (156 for 2) Went for a mighty heave, mishit the ball, and was caught by Inzamam-ul-Haq, running backwards from cover.
Sachin Tendulkar c Akmal b Afridi 52 (272 for 3) Chased a wide legspinner, bottom-edged to the keeper.
Sourav Ganguly c Akmal b Razzaq 12 (298 for 4) Flashed at a good-length ball outside off, caught behind
VVS Laxman lbw Razzaq 0 (298 for 5) Played down the wrong line to an inswinger
Rahul Dravid v Akmal b Kaneria 110 (344 for 6) Played forward and edged a legbreak